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ESSENCE Festival Artist Robert Glasper: My Life in 10 Songs

From Whitney to Kendrick, these tunes hold a special place in the heart of the Grammy-winning jazz keyboardist, who will bring his Robert Glasper Experiment to ESSENCE Festival, June 30-July 3 in New Orleans.

As we count down to the ESSENCE Festival, taking place June 30-July 3 in New Orleans, artists from our power-packed lineup will sum up their lives—from childhood to stardom—in 10 songs. This week it’s Grammy-winning jazz keyboadist Robert Glasper, who just released a new album, Everything’s Beautiful, which reimagines the music of Miles Davis.

1. The Isley Brothers, “Smooth Sailin’ Tonight”
“I used to hear that all the time riding in the back of the car. I was probably in third or fourth grade, and that was the beginning of my ear development, so I always leaned toward things that have really nice chord changes. The chord changes are really pretty. The Isley Brothers are my favorite band.”

2. Luther Vandross, “So Amazing”
“The song is just a beautiful joint. I love the lyrics. Luther Vandross is in my top three of people that I’ve always wanted to play piano with. When I was in junior high and started saying I really liked the piano, I wanted to play in his band ’cause the piano was such a main instrument in his world.”

3. Whitney Houston, “You Give Good Love”
“My mom, who passed away in 2004, was a singer, and she sang a lot of Whitney Houston. I remember when ‘You Give Good Love’ came out, I used to hear it all the time on the radio. But at the same my mom used to rehearse at the house with her band, and she would be singing that too.”

4. Chick Corea Akoustic Band, “Humpty Dumpty”
It was on my first jazz tape I got [Alive]—the very first song on the record. I met Chick Corea last year in China. He came off the stage, I told him my name, and he said, ‘Oh my gosh, Robert, I’ve been listening to Black Radio. My next record is going to be inspired by your Black Radio album.’ I almost started crying. I was like, ‘Did that just happen?’”

5. Keith Jarrett, “My Funny Valentine”
“He’s another one of my favorite pianists. He had an album called Still Live, and it starts off with his version of ‘My Funny Valentine.’ He does this long intro, and it’s one of the most beautiful intros I’ve ever heard in my life. I love the touch, I love the way his trio sounds. It’s something that I listen to all the time.”

6. Oscar Peterson and Ella Fitzgerald, “What a Little Moonlight Can Do”
“My mother used to play this song in the house all the time. She loved that song. She made me learn it. I used to play it, and she used to sing it. We used to do it together at home. Oscar is a huge, huge influence on my piano playing, and my mom loved Ella, so it just brings everything around.”

7. Kirk Franklin and the Family, “Why We Sing”
“I grew up in church, so I was playing in church probably starting at age 12. It’s a straight-up gospel tune, but it played on all the secular radio stations, so you couldn’t escape the song. It was just a beautiful song. You didn’t really hear a song like that before it. I’m a big fan of gospel music in general.”

8. Billy Joel, “And So It Goes”
“My mom would play Billy Joel in the house. Billy’s one of my favorite lyricists and one of my favorite pianists. I just saw him at the Garden [in New York City] last year. I love his touch, I love the way he accompanies his voice. I used to recite the lyrics of this song to girls as a poem that I wrote. I know for a fact I made three girls cry.”

9. Busta Rhymes, “Still Shining”
“That song was produced by J. Dilla, and J. Dilla is my favorite hip-hop producer of all time. I actually got a chance to work with him with Bilal in 1999, and we became really good friends. That beat is my favorite hip-hop beat of all time. When I heard that in high school, I was like, ‘What is this?!’ It’s just so dope.”

10. Kendrick Lamar, “I’m Dying of Thirst”
“That really influenced me to the point where I covered it on my last [Robert Glasper] Trio album, Covered, with my 7-year-old son and his friends saying the names of people who have been killed by the police over it. I wanted to incorporate the struggle we’re going through.”

Buy your tickets for the 2016 ESSENCE Festival now and make sure to check back for more updates.