When it comes to understanding how to become a famous soul singer many say you’re just born that way. But is that really true? Is that response disrespectful to the hardwork that many famous soul singers have put into their craft?
To say you are born that way implies that you’ve been handed the silver platter and you’ll make it no matter what. Alexis Garrett Stodghill found that there really is more to it than that.
Insider tips on how to become a soul singer from a multiple Grammy nominee
Ledisi is a neo soul singer who has risen to prominence through hard work, determination and believing in her talent. The multiple Grammy nominee might grace grand stages today — performing in spaces as dignified as the White House or as funky as the Essence Music Festival — but the songwriter and natural hair icon had to struggle to find the inner center that would become the foundation of her achievement. The star’s new book, Better Than Alright: Finding Peace, Love & Power, is a love letter to her fans and an interactive inspiration tome to all women (and men) who seek to empower themselves using the same tools that enabled Ledisi to become a breakout sensation. The powerhouse vocal diva, who has been compared to Tina Turner in terms of her vitality — and Ella Fitzgerald for her vocal range — sat down with theGrio to discuss how readers of her first book can find ”Peace, Love & Power” through loving their natural selves.
Now this is an insightful approach. Not many famous soul singers open up what tools and techniques they have actually done to get where they are today, especially for getting their head and heart into the right space.
What inspired you to write, Better Than Alright: Finding Peace, Love & Power?
Ledisi: It naturally happened. I had started writing an affirmation book, because someone said “You don’t know how to write a book.” It was on a dare. I’ve always written since I was a little kid, but I never thought I could write something that extensive. That’s how it started. And the next thing you know, I’m atEssence doing a book deal. So, it all happened naturally.
When I was writing it, my editor… was saying, “Make sure you tell a story, and make sure it’s real and honest and open. People need to see who you are in words.” So I [was involved in] everything from the layout of the book, to the feel of the book, to the words in the book and the photos – they didn’t know I took photos as well. I love taking pictures on the side, so I put those in there. It became a collage of everything I love, and what [has] inspired me. That’s what made it fun and challenging at the same time.
So Ledisi’s insights aren’t all about singing practice but teh very fabric of her life, the values and inspirations that make her uniquely who she is today.
Your book features many beautiful images of black women. Do you find such pictures uplifting and empowering in themselves?
There are black women in there, and there are black men. I love spreading the positivity of being a black woman, so I celebrate that part of myself. I want our culture to see that it’s exciting to be us. And that’s a part of Essence, celebrating being a black woman.
Ledisi shares her passion and vision and the celebration of who she is and how we all should celebrate ourselves.
Better Than Alrightis very freeform and poetic. It’s full of poems that readers can meditate on and spaces for them to respond. What inspired you to use this interactive format?
That was actually an idea that Essence thought of, because I’m interactive with my audience, on social media as well as in my live performances. They felt in a literal sense that that should happen [in the book]. So they came up with the idea to be interactive. I said, “That’s great! That’s who I am. You get it.” I think that’s awesome, because people can just start writing and be a part of it.
Here is an early recording of her interacting with her audience. Natural and honest connection are important to Ledisi.
You wanted to do this book to share with readers the strength and determination you’ve developed while working to achieve your goals. How did you develop that strength?
Other people reaching back. Family. Faith. All the things mentioned per chapter. Each chapter has a word that helped me. And then I tell you how I came about having that strength. It comes from other people. We all need each other. Experiences. Everything. Everything around me inspires me and keeps me going. I want people to start looking around themselves. Sometimes what you need happens in silence. I talk about that. Being still. Sometimes you hear it in a phrase on a billboard. And you think, “Oh I needed to hear that.” It all goes together. Your surroundings. I think what my book does is help you see how we need one another.
Would you equate strength with stillness or needing one another? So many of us are so busy running around like a headless chicken missing what’s already there.
What types of personal struggles are behind these life lessons?
I’ve accepted who I am. All the things that I’ve written about in the book are from the past. I’m past these things. But I felt like they needed to be said. You know – going through abuse, going through having a dysfunctional home life here and there. Gosh, struggling to become a successful artist. I wanted people to see that even though it looked impossible, it was still possible. That’s how I look at life. It’s not just being an artist. It’s any kind of profession. You always need other people to help lift you. A lot of people think you just made it on your own. No, I had a lot of help. (Laughs.) And we all need to see that and hear that. I didn’t know my story would inspire other people just through song, but now I have written it out [as well] to tell you an even deeper part of it. It was hard for me. (Laughs.) But it was worth it. It’s not all roses. But, even at the end of all that, I always feel as though there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Every time.
And it’s good to have the honesty that things do get tough and even in the tough times to remember that there is a light at the end of the tunnel even if it’s unclear at the moment.
You have created a unique career, as you have put it, “on your own terms.” What are those terms?
It has to feel right. It has to feel natural. It has to feel real and me, or I’d rather not do it at all. I love learning, and I’m open to listening to what other people think, or else I wouldn’t have made it this far. But I have to make sure it feels like me from the cover, to the pictures inside, to [choosing] other people’s words that have resonated for me — it all has to feel good. And that’s how I made it. In a literal sense as well as in my music. Everything has to feel natural. Even just walking into a room. I have to be myself – or it won’t work. I tried it the other way, (laughing) and nothing happened!
Isn’t it interesting that being open to others, open to learning and following what’s natural is something that she attributes to her success.
So you’re saying in a way that it all starts with someone being in touch with who they really are?
Yes, it will always go back to that. You can avoid it like the plague, and live a way that’s not you. But at the end of it, you’re going to have to come back to you. And that’s what this book made me do. It made me totally relive a lot of stuff and see that at the end of it, I had to be myself. It was very therapeutic writing this book, and I hope it helps others, because it’s very open. You HAVE to be yourself, or it won’t work. You have to talk to yourself – meaning sit down and figure it all out – to deal with our past, present and our future.
It’s an age old saying that dates back thousands of years: Know Thyself. And it’s interesting that Ledisi considers this as one of her central themes for her success. I guess when someone compares themselves witht he stars and want to know how to become a famous soul singer it can be easy to deny who you are and hide it away when that in itself could be the very thing you need to believe in.
I for one am very impressed with Ledisi’s life principles and her voice is amazing too.
Click like and share if you think Ledisi is a wise cookie. Tweet this post if you can recognise the ‘soul’ that Ledisi puts into every thing, not just her singing.