One of the most talked-about elements of February’s Grammy Awards celebration was the absence of Ledisi from the on-air performance of “Take My Hand, Precious Lord,” the song she performed in the movie “Selma.” For live TV, Beyonce sang it instead.
Much hullaballoo ensued as to the choice of singers and whether the Grammys failed to recognize the finer points of black culture.
But Ledisi wants Chicago to know that she’s focusing on her Wednesday visit and sold-out concert as part of the 2015 Intimate Truth Tour, and she’s over the entire Grammys spectacle. In fact, in an interview, she intimates that situation can only cement her space — and voice — in time.
With Raheem DeVaughn and Leela James
When: 6 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Portage Theatre, 4050 N. Milwaukee
Tickets: Sold out
“I understand the great Thomas Dorsey [the song’s lyricist] and why he chose [Mahalia Jackson to sing it] and how powerful this song is throughout the generations,” says Ledisi, “We are so passionate about this song. It’s bigger than me and everyone else.”
And then she spills the secret behind the actual movie recording: “I could not find a studio in L.A. to record the song! I couldn’t record in San Francisco. I had only one day I could do it. I had to go home. I flew to Louisiana because there was a studio there. When I landed I went to visit Mahalia’s gravesite, and laid flowers and thanked her for the opportunity. And then we recorded the song.”
Yet something still wasn’t right. She had to record it again. Time wasn’t on her side. “I had to do the Soul Train Awards the next day. I spent my own money. Nobody asked me. I had to sing it by myself and the piano player played to me singing me. It took forever to get it right.”
The next day, “Selma” director Ava Duvernay was emailed two versions of “Precious Lord.” One was fancy. The other, pared down. The version that made it into the movie is the latter.
“I’m telling you where my heart was with the song,” says Ledisi, becoming emotional. “I had to go home to pay homage first and then record. I’m connected to it spiritually. I’ll have that experience for the rest of my life and no one could ever take that away from me.”
Her immediate response to the Grammy snub was gracious. “Now you know why I responded the way I did. I had a whole experience with this one person [Jackson] I’ve never met.”
But back to the upcoming concert, because that’s what the sultry singer really wants to talk about. She won’t be focusing on clothing changes. She won’t be doing a whole lot of extra stuff on stage. She wants everyone to focus on her voice, on her scats, on her instrument. Much of what will be heard comes from her acoustic version of her latest EP, “Intimate Truth.”
“I do it every time I put out an album,” says the singer, whose current single “Like This” was nominated for a best R&B performance Grammy. “I get a guitarist and two vocalists and we sing the songs acoustically to get people excited about the album. It was a radio promo [thing], but people started to love that so much and people wanted me to do a live album.”
Again, she spent her own money on the compilation and says “the label was nice, letting me do it.” It’s been finished since last July, when she decided she would tour. The album dropped in January, so it was a nice digestif post-“Selma.”
Ledisi is touring with fellow R&B all-stars Raheem DeVaughn and Leela James. Each star has a large underground and international following but has yet to rise to ultra-pop-star status.
Some critics say that’s because R&B is dead. But Ledisi disagrees. True R&B is very much alive, she says. “There’s so many great singers out there and they don’t get enough shine,” says Ledisi. “I’m touring with two of them and oh, my God, they exist.”