Monica Cost

She’s been Lost & Found — then bound. Eventually, she said “Turn Me Loose to express all the Pieces of Me.” I’m talking about the dynamic, authentic and talented Ledisi.

Some say she’s an overnight success. Others are asking, why is she so happy? Where did she come from? Well, while Ledisi may be rapidly gaining success, her grind to this point has been a steady and slow roast . Ledisi’s path to this place began in New Orleans, when she was just eight years old.

By the time her Grammy Nominations rolled around in 2008, Ledisi was technically a veteran in the music industry, and she certainly has the wounds to show for it. Despite the smile you see and the positive messages you hear in her music, Ledisi has struggled to find that joy in a world where the elements of success have not typically included those she possesses. That perseverance is the Light that is Ledisi.

I had the pleasure of meeting Ledisi a couple of years ago on the Tom Joyner Cruise. While I didn’t get to see her perform on the boat, I did see her at the Women of Power luncheon during the National Urban League Conference in Washington, DC later that summer. She sang The Star Spangled Banner a cappella, and I was blown away. I remember quickly getting out my phone and taping her performance midstream. That evening, I ran into her and her team; people who I have found to be equally as pleasant and approachable as Ledisi. A sign of true authenticity. Her talent is the light that is Ledisi.

Most recently, I saw her (along with the very engaging Mr. Eric Benet) in Boston. From her back up singers (of whom one was Ms. Danetra Moore, who I had the opportunity to work with on the stage play, Loving Him is Killing Me) to every member of her band, her entire show was full of great music, humor and inspiration. It was my first time seeing her in concert and all I could say was, “wow!” The tour is appropriately named the B.G.T.Y. Tour (Be Good To Yourself Tour), as it was hard to leave the show feeling anything less than encouraged and affirmed. This is not an experience you can get simply by downloading her album. Similar to performers like Frankie Beverly & Maze, Ms. Patti LaBelle, Dougie Fresh, Jay Z, and others who connect so well with their audiences in person, you have to see her live performance. That experience is the Light that is Ledisi.

I stayed after the show to say hello to Ledisi and her Manager, Mr. Roland Jack (who I also adore). As usual, it was like seeing an old friend. She was warm, relatable and wanted to make sure that I had a chance to say hello to Eric and Roland, as well. We chatted briefly about her show and then moved on to life. I left that meeting thinking how much she seemed to be the real deal; one of the few industry greats who is constantly seeking to stay in the center of themselves. She renounces the industry’s Land of Make Believe and owns her space, squarely, in the Land of Authenticity and Truth. That makes her one of our L.Y.T.E.S. (Live Your Truth Experience Stars). I had to capture her story. Her truth is the Light that is Ledisi.

On a recent Monday afternoon I had the opportunity to speak to the songbird over the phone and to learn more about her. Being blessed to have interviewed many notable personalities, I had trouble putting my conversation with Ledisi into words. While I am in no way saying that any of the individuals I have interviewed in the past are typical or common, I have felt comfortable that a traditional Q & A format would more than allow the readers to experience the talent. However, I believe Ledisi is a unique experience to each person that encounters her.

Ledisi

My reason for wanting to interview Ledisi was to learn more about the light and authentic soul she appeared to be. In my professional life, my job is to ensure that a person or organization’s brand is congruent and consistent according to their values. All indicators suggests that Ledisi’s brand is congruent and consistent with her values. Bear with me as I try to capture the interview.

Natural and Authentic Movements. When asked how she remains true in an industry that doesn’t promote it, here is what she had to say: “I didn’t start of in this industry the way many others do. I didn’t fit into any box although people kept trying to put me into one. I knew I wanted to do this my way, so I just followed my natural movements.

Celebrating Yourself. There is more than enough messaging to provide an erosion in the human spirit. If you receive the imagery that is prevalent in our society, somehow it appears that, a chosen few (in relation to the total) are good enough. We’re clear about what they look like, how they act, and what they have. Having to be blatantly faced with constant negative feedback about her authentic self, I asked, what kept her going when so many were doubting her? Ledisi said “Love and having the right people around to tell me the truth. Self love and celebrating yourself is so important in life. I learned through the process of creating and releasing my first album (Lost & Found) that you can’t please everyone. I’ve been Lost & Found and I’m so happy now, to be in this business. I won’t allow people to put me in a box. And, I hope that I’m encouraging others by choosing to live my life out loud. Now I don’t know any other way and I’m so much more comfortable with who I am today.”

Empowered to Change. Despite our best efforts, it is easy to get stuck in a place. Whether it be through complacency and comfort or lack of confidence and low self-esteem, many are challenged to change. Ledisi and I began a conversation around what it takes to stay true to ourselves. What we both agreed on, is that we remain works in progress. In that conversation, here is what Ledisi had to say: “I love talking to women from previous generations. They have so much wisdom. I remember having a conversation with Ms. Patti LaBelle (who Ledisi adores) about the importance of continuing to be a work in progress. I’m not just one thing and I’m always growing. If I don’t change every year, then I’m not progressing. I never want to get comfortable. In just thinking about Pieces of Me (Ledisi’s latest album), it taught me how empowering I can be. Another thing I’m learning more and more is about how important your brand is and making changes. I’m still quite oblivious to my success, because I know what it took to get here. I’m just a girl from New Orleans and Oakland.”

Dreaming of the Future. As children we dream without limitations of who and how we want to be. It’s a pure expectation that we place on ourselves, unless and until people begin to insist that we set boundaries. I asked Ledisi if

she always dreamed of being of being a singer. She referenced her new book Better than Alright: Finding Peace, Love & Power, where she talks about imitating her mother in her childhood, who was also a singer. She said “before there was MJ, there was my mother and I wanted to be just like her. She was (and is) so beautiful. I would just watch her. If she put her hand on her hip when she took a picture, I put my hand on my hip. My mother always gave her best. She performed at rehearsal like she was at the actual show and I admired that. I wanted to be like my mother. So, yes I always knew I wanted to sing. And I honor my parents in continuing their dream.”

Finding Balance. Everyone is looking for nirvana. That place where all of aspects of life are perfectly placed and all cylinders are firing at full speed. Who can find such a place? I suggest that balance does not exist in that form. I believe that the balance is in the work put forth to find it. Some days I’m a better mother than business owner. Other days I’m a better business owner than friend. Then there are times where I’m a better servant than self caregiver. My hope is that I’ve invested enough in the various areas of my life to make withdrawals when I need to. For many in the industry with strong work ethic, balance may always be a future hope that never arrives. I asked Ledisi about her thoughts on finding balance in her own life. Ledisi said, “I’m working to find it. I would like to have a family one day, but I have to wait for the appropriate time. For now I find balance in being with family and friends, taking a day off to just do nothing or read a book or color with my nephew. I go with my spirit, because it knows what I need.” There is balance in that.

After talking with Ledisi, it certainly sounds like she is Better than Alright and Finding Peace, Love and Power. I pray her continued success and hope that, if you haven’t already, you will have the opportunity to experience the Light that is Ledisi.

Ledisi’s latest album is Pieces of Me. It is inspiring. She has also written a book entitled “Better than Alright: Finding, Peace, Love and Power”. The title speaks for itself. Her current tour is B.G.T.Y. (Be Good to Yourself) with only a few more stops to go. Make every effort to see her when she comes your way. There is much to love about the Light that is Ledisi.

Monica Cost is Chief Brand Strategist and Founder of Evidently Assured, an authentic brand strategy firm and the Live Your Truth Experience (L.Y.T.E.). She is the Author of the new life changing book on living an authentic life called, “The Things I Used to do to Sneeze!: How to live an authentic life with awesome sensations.”  Email her at:  [email protected]. Follow her via Twitter: @monicacost and Facebook.com/monicahairstoncost.  www.monicacost.com. Live true!