When it comes to the sheer talent possessed by Ledisi, the genre-fluid powerhouse singer-songwriter who’s coming to SPAC not once but twice this summer, don’t take our word for it. Instead, take it from, oh, 12-time Grammy winner John Legend. “As a contemporary vocalist, there’s almost no one I can think of in the world that sings as skillfully as she does,” the “All of Me” singer and household name once said in an interview. “In terms of her range, dexterity, clarity, versatility, she can do anything she wants. She’s one of the great singers in the world, period.”
And yet Ledisi isn’t quite a household name herself—at least not yet. That could be because she’s not particularly concerned with sticking to any one type of music long enough to be classified as a pop, jazz or R&B artist. “I’m genre-less,” the New Orleans native told me the week after performing Jacques Brel’s “Ne Me Quitte Pas” in French at the 2022 Grammys. “Last week I was at the Grammys. Now I’m with Eric Church in New Orleans. And then before the Grammys I was doing musical theater with Billy Porter directing at New York City Center. It’s just blowing my mind.” Oh, right: In addition to singing in a plethora of genres, ranges and languages and with music’s biggest names including Dave Matthews, Kelly Clarkson and jazz great Herbie Hancock, Ledisi is also a stage and screen actor, appearing in everything from Selma to The Legend of Little Girl Blue, the one-woman show she co-wrote and co-produced in 2019.
This summer, Ledisi will flex her multi-disciplinary muscles right here in the Spa City. First, she’ll grace the SPAC amphitheater stage at the Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival on Sunday, June 26. Then, she’ll return August 3 to headline her very own show with the Philadelphia Orchestra, in which she’ll perform songs from Ledisi Sings Nina, her 2021 album of songs by music icon and civil rights activist Nina Simone, an artist who literally saved Ledisi’s life when she was contemplating suicide while living in Oakland. “When I was depressed and ready to quit and really leave this earth, “Trouble in Mind” came on the radio,” Ledisi says. “I really got Nina then and I promised to finish this tribute.”
While Ledisi Sings Nina is something to behold on its own—the album was nominated for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album at this year’s Grammys—its songs become something even greater when paired with a full orchestra. “It just brings them sonically to another level,” Ledisi says. “The Philadelphia Orchestra has a little something that I like: A little wiggle.” Performing live also gives the artist a chance to sing songs by Simone that didn’t make it onto the album, such as African American folk song “See-Line Woman.” “It goes into this rhythm that I’m sure Nina would’ve loved, because it has this African beat on it,” Ledisi says of her arrangement of the song. “People get so euphoric; they’re so excited until I start to speak in words that are uncomfortable for them, and everybody gasps. At the end of it, they’re understanding: This is Nina. Ledisi is tributing her.”
If you’re not quite sold on Ledisi’s August 3 performance yet, SPAC president and CEO Elizabeth Sobol will surely change your mind: “This is an incredible opportunity for our community to experience this inspiring musician who is arguably one of the greatest singers in the world,” she says. “Ledisi’s new project with the orchestra takes the diversity and depth of Simone’s artistry with the breathtaking range of Ledisi’s powerhouse vocals. It’s our can’t-miss performances of the season.”
Tickets for “Ledisi Sings Nina” are on sale now and can be purchased at spac.org.