The Experience Featuring Ledisi, An Intimate Retrospective

Harold Washington Cultural Center - Chicago, IL, USA - June 17, 2011
by Sommer Thornton, photo by Raymond Boyd

Friday evening marked the 58th installment of The Experience, a unique event that gives fans and Chicago music enthusiasts the opportunity to sit in on an intimate chat between creator Dedry Jones and a featured artist. This time, The Experience, which has seen some of the biggest soul singers of the last two decades, featured four-time Grammy nominated singer/songwriter, Ledisi.

Ledisi, whose name means "to bring forth," has had the world in awe of her silky flawless voice since her first major release in 2000 entitled, Soul Singer: The Revival. Eleven years later, Ledisi has gained BET, Soul Train, and Grammy nods, performed for the President, and written and worked with music giants like Peabo Bryson, Quincy Jones, and Stevie Wonder.

Navigating through the music business initially left Ledisi feeling boxed-in a single genre of music, uniform look, and lighter vocals. Her fourth studio album, Turn Me Loose (2010) was a declaration, where Ledisi asserted her independence from any one genre, style, and image of R&B/ Soul music. Ledisi explained that defining moments in the last two years like her performance of a Nina Simone verse for the Black Girls Rock event, gave her the confidence to be herself. Another defining moment was when one of her idols, Patti Austin tried to get Ledisi to "tone down" her rendition of an Ella Fitzgerald classic, "Blues in the Night"-which ultimately won Ledisi praise from Quincy Jones.

With her fifth album, Pieces of Me dropping Tuesday, June 14, 2011, Ledisi says for the first time, she's able to enjoy her accomplishments and look back on her life, instead of grinding trying to make it. Now Ledisi is grounded in what she calls her "walk", and she lets her spirit lead her music, not a need to fit in. Moreover, Ledisi says that kudos from her idols, Rachelle Ferrell and Chaka Kahn boosted her confidence in her vocal versatility. Pieces of Me is an introspective of the many inspirations that make Ledisi the woman she is and flavors the songs she writes.

After the intimate chat, Ledisi performed a few songs off of her new album. Some of the most memorable were "Bravo", where in the chorus she encourages her listeners to celebrate life, saying, "no matter who you are, if you've been working hard, you deserve a round of applause." Ledisi has a keen sense of what the spirit needs to hear. Most of the songs on her new album have positive, self-assuring lyrics where Ledisi is able to belt out Rachelle Ferrell type intonations, showing the wide vocal range she has. Ledisi also performed a new song titled, "Hate Me," where she asked the crowd if she could take her time and let the intro swell. Ledisi then began to dip and wind her hips to the smooth blues melody as she sang the lyrics, "I know you hate me, but you can't stop loving me." Ledisi hit high notes that brought the crowd to their feet. And that was just a taste of how she's bringing it on her new album, Pieces of Me.

The concert concluded with an impromptu performance from Avery Sunshine, who graciously accepted Ledisi's invitation and jumped on stage to adlib her hit "Shut Up." An eclectic native of Pennsylvania, Avery Sunshine got a big boost from Ledisi, who says she is the next soul singer on the verge of stardom. Then Ledisi personally signed every patron's new cd- which they received as part of their ticket purchase.

The Experience over the years has grown into a popular showcase for the most talented soul singers to show their fans the person behind the lyrics. Past installments have seen Maxwell, John Legend, Kirk Franklin, and Mary Mary on the couch with proprietor Dedry Jones. Next up is R&B duo and married couple, Kindred the Family Soul, July 10th at the DuSable Museum. Check out for more details

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