Photo Courtesy of Derek Blanks
As a kid, Ledisi watched her mother's local R&B group rehearse in the living room of their New Orleans home. "My mom was my Michael Jackson," Ledisi says. "I emulated her voice, her poses—everything she did." When Ledisi was 10, the family moved to California, where she picked up the mic herself. "We couldn't afford much," says Ledisi, "but my mom was so confident in my voice that she had me audition for any after-school music activity she could find, from classical to gospel."

While studying jazz and classical music in community college, Ledisi started singing in San Francisco nightclubs and doing voice-overs in exchange for studio time. In 2000, she recorded an independent album. "Things were rocky, though," she says. "Labels liked my voice, but not my look." Discouraged, Ledisi made her way to New York, where she slept on a friend's floor and auditioned for Broadway roles for two years. With only one stint as an understudy, her old itch returned, so she started singing gigs again. After a show in Washington, D.C., Verve Records asked to sign her, and in 2007, Ledisi released Lost and Found, her first major-label album.

Three records later, Ledisi's soul-jazz-funk sound has earned her eight Grammy nominations, including one for Best New Artist. "I'm a mix of something old and something new," she says. "My audiences include a lot of mothers and daughters!" She's also gained a cult following that includes the president and first lady, for whom she has performed seven times. Ledisi's favorite onstage experiences, however, happen when she shares the spotlight: "There's a part of my song 'Pieces of Me' when I sing, I'm a woman, a woman. I love when women sing that line back to me. It's like they're cheering on one another—and themselves."

To hear a song from Ledisi's new album, download the O iPad app from the iTunes Store.

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