Grammy Nominee Andra Day: 'Nina Simone and Billie Holiday Are Why I Do What I Do'

Photo by Tibrina Hobson/WireImage
Since her debut album came out last August, Andra Day has been rising up in the music game.

Since her debut album, Cheers to the Fall, came out last August, Andra Day has been rising up in the music game. On Feb. 15, the jazzy chanteuse with the retro-soul vibes will be taking it to the next level when she performs at the Grammys, where she is up for Best R&B Album and Best R&B Performance (for her inspirational single “Rise Up”). And this Thursday, the 31-year-old diva will rock the stage at the annual ESSENCE Black Women in Music celebration in Los Angeles. As if that wasn’t enough, Day will be launching a headlining tour on Feb. 29 in San Francisco. No doubt about it—she is one of the hottest Black women in music right now.

What does performing at the ESSENCE Black Women in Music celebration mean to you?
It’s an exciting moment in my career to be invited to sing at an event like this. We are supporting each other. It’s a stark opposition to how we are portrayed often in the media. It puts to rest a lot of stereotypes to have this community of black women embrace me like this.

Jazmine Sullivan and Andra Day to Perform at ESSENCE Black Women in Music Pre-Grammy Event

What can we expect from your BWIM performance?
It’s definitely going to be a conversation. We’re going to connect. I’ll be engaging, and I believe the audience will be engaging too. And I’m hoping to do a surprise cover. You know I’m a fan of flipping hip-hop songs!

Who are some of your favorite Black women in music, past or present?
Nina Simone and Billie Holiday are pretty much the reasons I do what I do now. Nina Simone particularly because of her activism: She used her music as her platform. She was willing to speak up for the race issues that were going on at the time, even to the detriment of her own career.

This is your first year as a Grammy nominee. How are you feeling about everything?
I’m not nervous—yet. [Laughs.] Right now I’m excited and very grateful. I’m focused on the process of working out my performance with Ellie Goulding. I’m really looking forward to seeing Kendrick Lamar and Adele perform too. And I’m actually rooting for [other] people in my categories as well!

What was the inspiration behind “Rise Up”?
What I wanted it to be is a song about perseverance. It wasn’t a particular instance in my life or in anyone’s life that made me write it. It was just a culmination of everything, a simple message to remind people that giving up is not an option. It was a song that I prayed about before [cowriter] Jenn Decilveo and I came up with it.

What special experiences have you had through the song connecting with people?
There was a young black woman who came up to me in the airport in Atlanta. She told me she had been diagnosed with cancer. She said she listened to my song every day, and it really helped her get through chemo, and she’s now in remission. And I had a similar situation in Nashville when a man confided in me that his wife was battling cancer, and they both listened to the song every day, and it’s really helping them get through dealing with the disease. To hear that is like, “Wow. It had a purpose."

Since your album is called Cheers to the Fall, what is your favorite drink to toast with?
I am as dry as the Mojave Desert! So my favorite thing to toast with might be like a ginger ale.

Any thoughts on your second album yet?
Honestly, it's the furthest thing from my mind right now. People feel the pressure to hurry up and come out with a second album. I will start the creative process whenever I feel like it should happen. I have to take the time to just live.

Andra Day will join Jazmine Sullivan for a special performance at ESSENCE's 7th Annual Black Women in Music event this Thursday, Feb 11, in Los Angeles.

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