It’s hard to believe that just over 20 years ago, Ann Nesby burst upon the music scene as a member of the Minneapolis-based, The Sounds of Blackness. The Evolution of Gospel (Perspective Records/A&M) was the name of the critically acclaimed Grammy-winning album, produced by Gary Hines, with added production by Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis. Ann was the lead vocalist on that breakthrough album—delivering powerhouse performances on the singles, “Optimistic” and “The Pressure.” For the Sounds of Blackness’ 1992 follow-up, The Night Before Christmas…A Musical Fantasy, the act turned an original holiday song, “Soul Holidays,” into an enduring classic; again with Ann at the vocal helm.
In 1996, due to some collaborative help from Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, the time seemed ripe for Ann to launch her solo career. Her debut album, I’m Here For You, spent more than a year on the R&B charts. As a noted songwriter, she penned hits for Gladys Knight (“Home Alone”) and Patti LaBelle (“The Right Kinda Lover” and “Someone Like You”). She also worked with Tyler Perry in his early stage play, I Know I’ve Been Changed, and starred in fellow Playwright David Talbert’s What My Husband Doesn’t Know, and A Fool and His Money.
Ann has amassed a total of six Grammy nominations. She has released seven successful solo, studio albums: I’m Here For You, Put it on Paper, Make Me Better, In the Spirit, This is Love, The Lula Lee Project, and Ann Nesby’s Soulful Christmas. Additionally, she released a compilation of dance hits Love is What We Need in 2001 and a greatest hits CD / DVD, Ann Nesby the Best of Live, in 2007. In 2003, she was cast in her first feature film, The Fighting Temptations, as Aunt Sally Walker alongside Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Beyoncé.
More recently, Ann signed with Arrow Records Soul [also home to fellow diva Kim Burrell], an affiliate of Creflo Dollar Ministries. Her new single, “Through with You,” is a wonderful R&B ballad, produced and written by Kendrick Dean and Brandon Alexander Morgan; co-written by Kenyon Dixon. The single was the No. 1 Most Added Single at Urban Adult Contemporary Radio during the first week of May.
It’s been four years since Ann released her last album, The Lula Lee Project. Of course, we at Amalgamation were more than ecstatic to catch up with the songstress by phone from her home in Atlanta.
Talk a bit about signing to Arrow Records.
I’ve been a part of the [Creflo & Taffi Dollar’s] World Changers Ministries family going on 15 years. When [General Manager of Arrow Records] Cappriccieo Scates came on board last year, he wanted to sign artists who had been in the business for years and who had followings. There were already a number of younger artists signed to the label. Capp wanted to start his journey by signing me. I met Capp through [Hidden Beach Records marketing executive] Thornell Jones years ago. We started talking about things we wanted to see, such as ‘real music’, and ‘unplugged’ kind of things. I thought it would be a great fit. Being at home with my church family here in Atlanta, and doing my job, is the best of both worlds. At my age, it would allow me to relax and be at home more.
Tell us about the “Through with You” single.
Well, we decided that it should be our first single. Of course, not having released a project since 2010, I began to feel the spirit of working, getting on the road, seeing my friends, and putting out some good music. I feel like “Through with You” is a ‘life’ song. It can reflect sort of ‘a state of mind.’ Anyone can be in a bad situation with people who are not good for you or in a bad situation on your job with people you are ‘through with.’ You can be ‘through with being broke.’ I can apply this to any number of situations. You can mainly be ‘through with’ a bad relationship.
Do you have a title for what is your eighth solo album?
We are really playing with the title right now. There’s a song on the album that kind of says it all to me, titled, “Living My Life.” It touches on a lot of things pertaining to my music career, my children and my family. I think I’m leaning towards that title, because it sounds kind of catchy.
How have you successfully walked the line between secular genres without alienating your Gospel base?
For several reasons; first up, I try to do music from my heart. It’s my truth in the songs that I’ve been blessed to be gifted to write. My songs come from real life situations; and they are not vulgar. I try to write songs that will bless people’s lives; the situations they are going through, and to let them know they are not alone. Whether or not you have come into the knowledge of God, your truth is the truth; however, you receive it.
You collaborated with a number of young writers and producers for this project. How much of the project did you personally write?
I would venture to say that I did about a fourth of the writing. I worked with some great young producers. For the first single, I had a prolific writer-producer by the name of Kendrick Dean, a beautiful person with a great life story himself, who I loved working with. Kendrick has worked with young progressive artists like Kelly Rowland. When we got together, he was able to tailor something specific to me and still give it a youthful sound, which is what we tried to do with this project.
I worked with Novel Stevenson, the grandson of Solomon Burke. I worked with Guitar Boy, who has written for so many great artists. I had an opportunity to work with an awesome young writer by the name of Lyric Wright; this will be a blossoming year for her.
There is also James Jones who wrote a beautiful inspirational song titled, “I See Beyond.” That song was one I had been stuck on, as it really struck me, having lost my mother back in January. I took off about five to six months to take care of my mother during her final stages. When I finished the song, I played it for my mom and she absolutely loved it. After her passing, I was able to sing the song at her home-going service. To be able to sing it, it blessed her and lifted her up during her tough moments, and it lifted and encouraged me when she passed away. I collaborated on a Traditional Gospel song that I really love with a young man out of Birmingham by the name of Darnell “Baby D” Davis. The song is called “Thank You for Favor.” I’m just so excited to venture into so many different genres of music and be able to connect them all.
With dance music being so hot, did you approach the genre again on this project?
Absolutely! “Living My Life” is a dance song. I can never turn my back on my dance following. They are among my largest group of followers next to my inspirational followers, here in the States and internationally. WhenI do the dance shows, most of the time they want me to sing some Gospel music. They may have a Gospel dance music night or inspirational house music theme. When I do my house music dates, sometimes the stage becomes an altar. I’m really proud that they love me enough to trust me—that when I come to sing my music, I’m going to talk about God because they know who I am.
You have performed comfortably in any number of venues from Six Flags, nightclubs, gay clubs, churches, music conferences, we’ve seen you perform on a flatbed truck in a parking lot for hundreds of people.
I will do that; you’re absolutely right. I have to attribute that to my parents who were both singers. They would say to us, “Don’t try to limit your gift. Give the best that you have always.”
How does it feel to have a daughter (Jamecia Bennett) and granddaughter, who was an American Idol finalist (Paris Bennett), in the family business?
Again, I’m very blessed to know that they’ve decided to carry on with what they saw me go through. As you know, this industry is not cute. They have been there, backstage and on tours with me. They know what it’s like; the early mornings, late nights, eating on the run. For them to desire to do what I do, I feel really blessed.
Which artists of the younger generation do you truly admire?
I love so many. I have to say Brandy and Monica are two of my favorites. Ledisi is an artist I really love, and I’m really biased when it comes to her, because she is also my cousin.
To what do you attribute your longevity in this business?
I know what my calling is, and that God has given me this gift to share; when you learn and understand your purpose and gift, there is something inside of you that drives you. I intend to be around doing what I’m doing. I don’t intend to retire. I remember asking [the late] Lou Rawls, who became a good friend of mine, the key to his longevity and success. He said, “Imma tell you this, baby, and it ain’t that deep, ‘If it aint broke, don’t try and fix it. Do it good every time. Keep your loyal fans. And if you got something new, add it in a little at a time. But keep what you got!’”