Concert Review: LEDISI WITH THE L.A. PHILHARMONIC (Conducted by Thomas Wilkins at the Hollywood Bowl)

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by Tony Frankel on July 27, 2021

in Concerts / Events,Music,Theater-Los Angeles


Man, what a party! The Hollywood Bowl and Los Angeles Philharmonic hosted the grand dame of soulful fun, Ledisi (pronounced LEH·duh·see), for her tribute to Nina Simone. The air was thick with jubilant socializing as guests were more charming, friendly and generous than I have seen in years. Yes, yes, yes, there is a joy just to return to live events (which may end again if unvaccinated folks don’t get their shit together), but most of us knew what we were in for.

The New Orleans-born, Oakland-raised contemporary Grammy-winning R&B singer had already released a tribute album to Nina Simone, and last Saturday she joined the LA Phil and conductor Thomas Wilkins to offer orchestral renditions of many more songs than were on the album. (I also saw her in another Nina Simone tribute, LEDISIThe Legend of Little Girl Blue, at The Wallis in Beverly Hills last December).

While some may figure Ledisi was celebrating Simone, I see it that Ledisi was celebrating Ledisi with her magnetic, infectious stage presence and her unique brand of vocalizing — which can go from wailing to pianissimo in a flash. You see, Ledisi isn’t showing off her voice, she’s living in it. So whether it was “Feeling Good” or the Jacqes Brel tune, “Ne Me Quitte Pas,” there was a hint of sorrow behind the great times. She put a spell on us, indeed, giving heartrending meanings to the lyrics.

Interestingly enough, there was nary a trace of Simone’s politics or protests in the show — “Mississippi Goddam” was nowhere to be found. It was so refreshing just to be entertained without a message being choked down our throats. This was just old-fashioned, good-time, community-inducing entertainment which wrapped us with a cloud of high feelings (yeah, the wine was overflowing, too). Never, ever miss the chance to see Ledisi Live.

Instead of an opening act, the first half of the program — which celebrated mostly Black composers — was a perfect opening as both Ledisi and Simone were classically trained. Wilkins is a master in any arena; here he brought the house to life with Price’s Juba Dance from her Symphony No. 1 in E-minor, leading in with another of his masterful intros on this neglected composer, simply because of her sex and her color. I’m not quite sure how Bach’s Fantasia and Fugue in C Minor ended up with Ellington and Coleridge-Taylor (who deserves a program all his own), but it left us in a rather magical place for the latter half.

photos by Ron Young on behalf of Ledisi

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