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Your Music Saved My Life: Ledisi Talks With Lara Downes

Nina Simone introduced me to Ledisi. I've been working on a project devoted to Ms. Simone's music, and from the very beginning my producer has been telling me about Ledisi's tribute album to Simone. It sounded interesting — a powerhouse R&B and jazz singer paying homage to an artist whose music provided her a lifeline in a time of crisis. And then, last month, Ledisi Sings Nina came out. As soon as I heard the first riveting notes of the opening track, "Feeling Good," I knew that Ledisi is an artist utterly herself, who says what she needs to say, in her own way, no matter what it takes.

Simone fought a lonely, unrelenting battle to be herself. It was unimaginably complicated, exhausting and ultimately self-destructive. But her fight changed the world and left behind a legacy that continues to transform any listener who encounters her sound, the raw, electric power of her voice and her musical choices. More than anything, her struggle made way for her musical descendants, for a lineage of artists like Ledisi who are impossible to define, to predict or contain.

My conversations in this video series have consistently circled two central themes: lineage and community. In this time of reckoning and reimagining, Black artists have been leaning into gratitude for the musical ancestors who birthed us, recognizing the power of our family ties with our fellow artists, and pulling together to welcome a brighter new day for the next generation.

It's never easy to be yourself. But when you find your people — the ones who see you, know you, hold you up and fly with you on this journey — at least it's not so lonely. For Ledisi, Nina Simone is a presence at her back, and at the same time a guiding light on her journey.

Copyright 2021 Classical KUSC

Lara Downes is among the foremost American pianists of her generation, a trailblazer both on and off the stage, whose musical roadmap seeks inspiration from the legacies of history, family and collective memory. As a chart-topping recording artist, a powerfully charismatic performer, a curator and tastemaker, Downes is recognized as a cultural visionary on the national arts scene.