Jazz, Soul and Ms. Andra Day
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because faith can create beautiful things.
By Carl Pettit
While it might be tempting to craft an all-too-obvious pun with “day,” let’s stick with “time” and simply say Andra Day’s time has arrived. And if you haven’t heard her heartfelt, soul-drenched music yet, steady yourself, because she’s about to hit you with a whirlwind of emotive power.
Day — an alumna of the prestigious San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts — knew from age 16 she wanted to sing professionally. In conversation with OZY, she admits that if singing hadn’t worked out (and, boy, it has), she would have worked behind the scenes with artists (and still might someday), because she enjoys “watching people blossom and grow.”
After Stevie Wonder caught wind of Day’s gifts, he paired her with legendary producer and songwriter Adrian Gurvitz.
Talent, faith and YouTube have helped her along the way. One listen to her exquisite, husky alto, which compares with the likes of Billie Holiday and Nina Simone, and you’ll understand the talent part. Questlove put it succinctly: “Andra Day’s voice can stop time.” Her faith is why she expresses herself through song in the first place. “I’m a very spiritual person,” she says. “I want people to know my truth. Unconditional love of God, and each other.” And then there’s YouTube.…
After Stevie Wonder caught wind of Day’s gifts, he paired her with legendary producer and songwriter Adrian Gurvitz. Day then posted an eclectic assortment of acoustic covers (arranged mostly with her sister, Jasmine) — from artists as diverse as Eminem, Muse and Florence and the Machine — on YouTube, to see how people reacted to her voice. The effort paid off. Ellen DeGeneres quickly became a champion of Day’s music, as did Warner Bros. Records. Day and Gurvitz — and, later in the process, Raphael Saadiq — got to work on her debut album, Cheers to the Fall, which came out in late August.
While Day says the writing process varied from song to song, she recalls getting off the phone with DeGeneres one day with the lyrics “I’m hardly the woman I once was” coursing through her head. When she took the line into the studio, it matched a melody Gurvitz had been tinkering with on the piano, and eventually became “City Burns,” Day’s favorite track on the album.
Fortune found Day again when she ran into Spike Lee at the Sundance Film Festival, and he told her he would direct the video for the album’s first single, “Forever Mine.” “He’s very efficient,” Day says of Lee, “and very funny.” In the video, which has Day stuck in a box in a hotel bar, the singer reads Scripture, prays and chats on the phone … with Lee actually talking to her and cracking jokes on the other end of the call.
Day describes Nina Simone, one of her heroes, as a “fearless” woman who “wasn’t afraid to tell truth in music, even if ugly, and people didn’t want to hear it.” Considering the raw confessional nature of Day’s songs, and her considerable talent, people might be saying the same of her in the years to come.