Ledisi is found at last

Times Staff Writer

AMY Winehouse is the retro soul newcomer who has grabbed the most attention and Grammy nominations (not to mention tabloid headlines), but there's a growing buzz in the music industry that Ledisi, another 2007 best new artist nominee, may also be worth watching in the years to come.

The singer's major-label debut, "Lost & Found," was released last summer by Verve. The title hints at her career path -- despite rave reviews and a sterling pedigree, Ledisi has been an underground heroine looking for the career sunshine of mainstream success.

"I'm excited about the Grammy nominations and, really, I'm still excited about getting signed to a major label. All of it is this great adventure that I've really worked toward," said the performer who was born Ledisi Anibade Young in New Orleans. "This is my time; this is what I have been working toward."

Ledisi has been near (or on) a stage as long as she can remember. Her mother was a singer in an R&B; group in New Orleans, and by age 8, Ledisi was good enough herself to perform with the city's symphony orchestra. Her odyssey took her to UC Berkeley to study piano, and in the Bay Area she earned good reviews for her roles in stage productions such as "The Wiz." She can tap that experience for her acting role in George Clooney's upcoming football comedy, "Leatherheads."

But her true ambition was finding her own voice. With the group Anibade (after her middle name) she crafted a sound that drew on jazz, hip-hop and R&B.; But while the local success had her flirting again and again with a breakthrough, it proved elusive.

"I just kept writing songs and working on myself," she said. "Every success requires a lot of work. And I did that."

Her sound is a mix of contemporary urban, but her training and love of classic jazz and R&B; show through, and her love of scatting has become a signature.

The singer, who is part of the talent lineup for Friday's Grammy-sponsored MusiCares Person of the Year salute to Aretha Franklin, is hardly a "new artist" if you look at the years she has put in. But she said she is overwhelmed at the notion of walking the red carpet as a multiple nominee. ("Lost & Found" is also nominated for R&B; album.)

"You watch for me. I will be looking cute, I promise you that," she said with a chuckle. "I can't wait. I hope Jay-Z performs, that is what I want to see. And I love the other nominees. I think Amy Winehouse is great."

Ledisi said the Writers Guild of America strike had her worried ("I didn't want to cross a picket line; I was thinking hard about that decision."), but now she can relax, stargaze and enjoy her hard- fought success.

"I'm just getting to the place I've always wanted to be, and I have a lot more coming. I couldn't be happier."


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