If you’re wondering where all of the real singers went, you can find quite a few of them on “The Terrell Show.” A vehicle spotlighting vocal ability, the show has featured folks from Sevyn Streeter to The Clark Sisters. It’s a big deal. For those who are unfamiliar, Terrell throws out a word and his musical guests sing a song containing said word. It’s a song association.
For his last show of this season—and 2020—he featured artist Ledisi. (I wanted to note Ledisi’s genre but she’s kind of hard to box in.) Either way, in conversation with her he revealed that this season of the show had a theme—celebrating dark skinned Black women in the music business.
Terrell said the impetus to spotlight these women came as a result of him feeling like darker skinned women had been underappreciated.
Ledisi hollered. “Oh! Hallelujah! Haaaalelujah.”
When she composed herself she said, “I’m not playing but I’m forreal. It’s real.”
Finally Terrell asked her the question about whether or not she’d ever experienced anything in the industry as a dark skinned Black woman.
“Yes. I was told, when I first started, you’re not pretty enough. I was too Afrocentric at the time. This was before Erykah, before Jill came out. Before we had an example. So my meetings were ahead. I was ahead. And I was really—starts singing African-sounding chants–. I had Bantu knots and all the look. They weren’t ready for that. It wasn’t in. I was trying to sign to a record company. And they were like, ‘You’re just not pretty enough. If you change the way you look, lose weight, the color of your hair’—basically not be yourself. And I said, ‘Okay, well thanks for the advice.’
That was over 20 years ago.”
When asked how she handled that rejection, Ledisi said she “recycled the energy.” And said that she was going to prove that she was worthy to be here as myself.
“Then I started seeing other artists come out and be what I already was. Because I was ahead of myself. And I’m always ahead of myself. And that’s okay too. There’s no one else like you in this world so appreciate what that is. And let them come to you. We’re royalty. I get tired of us chasing. Go ahead and let them come to you. They’ll come. It might not be when you want it but let it come because that’s when God wants it. He’s like, ‘Okay, now you’re ready.’ I’m ready. There’s no way I was ready for what I have right now. They’re coming to you because you created a lane. And once you create a lane, you become the culture. You don’t have to chase. What’s yours is meant to be yours. I’m happy. I like my lane. It’s pretty dope.”
“I was going to give up. I was going to quit this business because they said you’re not pretty enough. And the first song came out—when I finally signed with a label. My first song, my first album with a major label gets a Grammy nomination. I’m with Chaka. I’m sitting next to Taylor Swift. I’m seeing Amy Winehouse win for best new artist but I’m in the same category. This is blowing me away after all these years of working hard. I wrote a song about ‘don’t give up.’ [“Alright”] and this song is being acknowledged. It means the world.”
When Terrell asked Ledisi where she found the hope to keeping pushing, she said it was her mother.
“My mom. She said, ‘It’s going to be alright. You’re going through some things but you’re going to be alright.’
I said, ‘Hmm. That sounds like a song.’ Now she want 10-15 percent. I’d give her the world because she saved me. She put me back on track. She gave me my footing. Somebody you need one little word from something, somebody. Sometimes it’s going to be you.”