by Dom Jones
Ledisi. That’s who everyone had come to see. The afternoon started with an empty stage at The Red Room, Cafe 939, as an anxious audience awaited one of the most prolific vocalists of our time, Grammy-nominated singer, songwriter, actress, and author. Behind the empty seats was a projector, where questions would be sent via tweet and captured with the hashtag #LedisiAtBerklee. As students milled in, the energy and excitement in the room was apparent, and it was clear that we all wanted to learn from this musical giant. Born in New Orleans and raised in Oakland, Ledisi’s vast vocal ability ranges from opera to jazz to R&B to funk to gospel. As an independent artist, her work has stood the test of time, where many have faltered. So has the has the historic civic work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., so it was apropos to have Ledisi as one of our key visitors for the weekend.
President of the Berklee Black Student Union, Robert Gould, had the opportunity to interview Ledisi throughout the Q&A session, pausing to take questions from the Twitter feed. He was a fun-loving host, who had done his homework on the artist, and asked some common questions that music students might be curious about. The Twitter questions were more broad, with senior Tickwanya Jones, asking the question: Since the music industry is so image driven, have you ever felt pressured to get to the next level by a certain age? Ledisi responded to this question by wisely reminding us that music is a timeless art. She said that her goal is to be herself, to make music that resonates with where she is in her life, knowing that it will find resonance with others. Through her comments, one could see how social justice and music are infinitely interconnected. While Dr. King came to prominence in the civil rights movement at a very young age, his work lives on, in the political work of his would-be successors, and very much in references to his work through music and art in general.
Later that evening, Ledisi joined us in the Berklee Performance Center for a continued celebration of Dr. King’s legacy, by way of a concert and keynote. I felt pride as people stood for what has become known as the Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice.” There were many more amazing performances, and finally, Ledisi took the stage once more, this time to sing. When she launched into the iconic song, “Precious Lord,” by gospel legend, Mahalia Jackson, the room was transported. Here, Ledisi was bringing forth the energy, struggle, and pride of the civil rights movement that Dr. King led, into a room filled with music students who also continue that struggle through the Black Lives Matter movement. We were reminded of the basic human rights that we still fight for, and sometimes attain, like the right to marry for all. We were solemn, contemplating struggles that we never thought we’d face, like clean water for all Americans. Ultimately, Ledisi’s performance illuminated what many of us know, but sometimes forget: music is powerful. How can we, as students, use our talents and lessons to inform meaningful change in a world where Dr. King’s dream is still waiting to be realized? We can use Ledisi as our example, harnessing our musical gifts to connect humanity, not as divided archetypes, but as one human organism, evolving towards peace.