Private Playlist: Lady Blackbird honors fearless and transcendent artistry

Lady Blackbird. Photo by Christine Solomon

Private Playlist is a listening session with Southern California’s most notable musical figures in their private creative environments.

Few vocalists have earned the honor to be proclaimed “the Grace Jones of jazz,” but Lady Blackbird is not your average interpreter. She made a bold debut last year with her slow-burning version of Nina Simone’s “Blackbird.” Her second single, “Beware the Stranger,” was a similarly intense reworking of “Wanted Dead or Alive,” the rare groove classic popularized by the Voices of East Harlem. And in October, she released a gorgeously melancholy take on the James Gang’s “Collage.” She releases her full-length debut, “Black Acid Soul,” this spring.

For this edition of Private Playlist, Lady Blackbird honors the fearless and transcendent artistry of Billie Holiday, Donny Hathaway, and others.

LADY BLACKBIRD: You know, it's been a thing. I'm kind of all over the map. There's the good days; the more "oh my God" days; "the world is ending" days. And I tell you what: music really does pull you through anything. And my mood, who I'm listening to and what type of music, that changes constantly. Like anybody else, I'm just trying to stay safe and pull through. But yeah, trying times, huh?


I wanted to start the show with "Laveau Dirge No. 1," named after Marie Laveau, who's known as the "Voodoo Queen of New Orleans." I'm such a lover of horns and the trumpet; I really feel it has this ability to transport you to a whole other place in time. It weeps, if you will. And this particular piece was recorded by Trombone Shorty in one pass.


Brittany Howard's "Jaime" has been a big one that's gotten me through quarantine. That album has been blaring from my speakers the entire time. She's a fierce and fearless woman, and you can feel her passion and strength in this record. There's a vulnerability you hear. And she's rock and roll, man. Between staying high and listening to the Brittany Howard album, they surely did get me through quarantine. You want to know the two main ingredients? There they are. "Stay High." I found it very appropriate.


Sampa the Great is brand-new to me. I was actually just introduced to her. From what I've read, she’s based now out of Australia. The first song [of hers] I heard is called "Energy." And let me tell you why I've played that song every day. It's just on repeat. The vibe of this song when it kicks in: you know the ones that make you make one of them nasty faces? That's what this song does.


I have a big portrait of Billie Holiday hanging in my living room. And I'm telling you, my days go better when I start them playing Billie holiday to get me going. She's an artist of a lifetime, and it's in every song she interprets. It's her signature, you know? It's only her. And she carries such weight. She's so heavy, and there's a certain sadness that's always attached, and a raw, honest truth. A severe dose of reality with such grace, if you will. And that's who Billie Holiday is to me.


Mr. Donny Hathaway, what do you say? He has always been one of my all-time favorite male vocalists. His voice is so rich and textured and transcendent. People always ask me [about] the people I've looked up to and listened to growing up. And he's definitely one that's always been on my list. Today I chose "Someday We'll All Be Free." Like all timeless music, this particular song is so relevant right now, and maybe it can bring some healing to the moment.

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Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad on finding solace in Gil Scott-Heron
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