As we count down to the ESSENCE Festival, taking place June 30-July 3 in New Orleans, artists from our power-packed lineup wiill sum up their lives—from childhood to stardom—in 10 songs. This week it's Andra Day, who will be bringing the retro-soul sounds from her Grammy-nominated debut, Cheers to the Fall, to the Superdome.
1. Billie Holiday, “Strange Fruit”
“Strange Fruit” was actually the first Billie Holiday song I ever heard. I listened to the song multiple times to really understand what she was talking about. It was actually my musical theater teacher in school that introduced me to Billie Holiday. That was really what sparked my deep love for jazz.”
2. Nina Simone, “I Put a Spell on You”
It was the first time I’d ever heard Nina Simone’s voice, and everything about it—the texture—was so different. I remember spiraling into this thing of just listening to all of her music.
3. Aretha Franklin, “Drown in My Own Tears”
“I grew up with my father listening to soul music. Hearing Aretha Franklin’s voice…she is the Queen of Soul for a reason. That’s one of my favorite songs ever. I [also] love the Ray Charles version and the Dinah Washington version.”
4. Stevie Wonder, “Ribbon in the Sky”
“Stevie Wonder is one of my father's favorite artists, and that's one of his favorite songs.. So that was always part of my upbringing, washing cars with my dad, singing that song and trying to find harmonies. It’s funny with Stevie being a part of my being discovered, it kind of comes back full circle."
5. Carole King, “It’s Too Late”
"I remember always watching my mom in the kitchen while she was cooking or while she was cleaning, and she’d sway her hips back and forth singing that song with so much conviction. Now I look back like, ‘What was she going through?’”
6. 2Pac featuring Dr. Dre, “California Love”
"It’s from my formative years, my teenage years. I’m a hip-hop fan and I’m a Southern Cali girl. That song used to play all the time when I was with my friends in the streets."
7. Lauryn Hill, “Doo-Wop (That Thing)”
"I loved Lauryn Hill, I loved the Fugees. That album [The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill] reframed how I looked at women and how empowered they could be.”
8. Erykah Badu, “On & On”
“On & On” was when I really began to discover neo-soul singers, like Erykah Badu and Jill Scott. The whole Baduizm album is amazing. It’s just like beautiful, introspective soul.”
9. Michael Jackson, “Human Nature”
"It’s hard for me to pick between that and 'P.Y.T.' and 'Dirty Diana.' I almost can’t put one song in that slot. He’s Michael. We do a Michael Jackson medley [on tour]. We do ‘Rock with You,’ ‘P.Y.T.’ and ‘Thriller.' We just sort of mash them together.”
10. Prince, “Diamonds and Pearls"
“This is one of my favorite Prince songs, the way the song soars. I’m a big, bombastic anthem person. I remember performing this song for my family when I was a kid in the backyard at the barbecue. They just laughed.”