There is no telling what might happen when Ledisi returns to her childhood home to perform at the Voodoo Music Experience. In August, more than 5,500 people endured heat and pouring rain to hear her in Washington, D.C. Ledisi wanted to show her appreciation, but when she left the stage to greet them, a rush of 20 fans ended up almost ripping her dress off.
Her fans (Ledheads) have caught her by surprise several times recently. While performing at the El Rey Theater in Los Angeles, she was stunned they knew the words to "Higher Than This" from her new album Turn Me Loose. And she froze.
"I was in amazement and forgot my words," she says between laughs. "And I couldn't get back on track because they were singing for me. That's one thing I'll never get used to, people singing my words back to me."
In spite of recent success, Ledisi is still defining herself and settling into her career. Growing up in New Orleans, she sang with the New Orleans Symphony Orchestra. As a child, she moved to Oakland, Calif., and has incorporated everything from jazz to soul into her repertoire and even flirted with opera training. She self-released her first two albums, starting with Soulsinger in 2000. Her third release for Verve, Lost & Found (2007), was nominated for two Grammys, including best new artist. But even with five albums behind her, she's still mastering the creative process.
While working on a follow-up to Lost & Found, her writing stalled. "Everything started sounding the same," she says. She was trying to write another Lost & Found. Innovation re-emerged when she was on the way to a movie with a friend, who played Them Changes by Buddy Miles for her.
"I started crying and I kept crying for a good hour," she says. "We couldn't even go to the movies."
They saw the movie, but afterwards, she repeatedly played Miles' 1970 soul-rock classic, which became the catalyst for new vocal freedom and allowed her to make records that sound like her live shows.
"This is the kind of energy I (have)," Ledisi says. "So, why keep hiding it and giving into becoming what everyone else wants?"
She co-wrote all songs, except the cover of "Them Changes," and worked with musical giants including Raphael Saadiq, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis on the new album.
"I don't know if it's going to chart or sell or anything," she says, describing her new recording approach. She says she stopped focusing on those things. "I did it that way and almost quit the business." She didn't release an album from 2002 until 2007.
Her return to recording has been well received. Lost & Found debuted on the Billboard R&B charts at No. 30. Turn Me Loose debuted at No. 1 and remains in the Top 30. "That means I've still got even more work to do," she says. "People are listening now, so what do I want to say?"
Voodoo fans can expect a full representation of her album, including the horn section. "I want people to hear what they are buying live, too," she says.
But the Ledheads still amaze her. She recently noticed their openness with her in Los Angeles. "People have felt compelled to tell me their life [story], while I'm eating my egg sandwich," she says, laughing. But she is still adjusting to fame. During an October show in Oakland, for a moment she just stood on stage and didn't sing. "The audience went bananas, and I was like, it's just me."