Ann Nesby Knows About 'Love' She captured attention as the lead voice in the powerhouse gospel group Sounds of Blackness. Now, gospel and R&B singer Ann Nesby talks with NPR's Tony Cox about her music-making career and her latest CD, titled This is Love.

Ann Nesby Knows About 'Love'

Ann Nesby Knows About 'Love'

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She captured attention as the lead voice in the powerhouse gospel group Sounds of Blackness. Now, gospel and R&B singer Ann Nesby talks with NPR's Tony Cox about her music-making career and her latest CD, titled This is Love.

TONY COX, host:

This is News and Notes. I'm Tony Cox. Here's another listener favorite. Ann Nesby's musical roots reached way back to her hometown in Joliet, Illinois. That's where she came up singing in her church.

Ms. ANN NESBY (Singer): For me, as an artist, my family's roots of being a Christian go a way way back. God was the center of our entire life. So, we knew that we were going to go to church and it was not a question. They didn't give us a choice or any option whether we were going to go to church and we were going to be in the choir. If you had any inkling of a voice, if they needed you in the choir, you are going to be there.

COX: In the early 90s, Nesby joined the gospel choir Sounds of Blackness. She became the group's lead vocalist and she won her first Grammy for the album "Evolution of Gospel." She later left Sounds of Blackness to pursue a solo career. I spoke with her about her CD, "This is Love" and her new sound.

You know, I was talking about you to someone the other day. And I said to there, man, can she sing, which you really can. And their response was, you should see her make a wrong move by the sheer power of her voice. How do you do that?

Ms. NESBY: I'm sure that it has to be the anointing of God because there's no power of my own. I can maybe attribute to the many, many hours of choir rehearsal in church - church all day, Sunday morning, Sunday afternoon and Sunday night, church hopping in between being in the foundation. But other than that, I don't have a clue.

COX: You know, Ann Nesby, you are called an inspirational R&B artist.

Ms. NESBY: Yes.

COX: And traditionally, I know that you know this. These two music forms have often clashed, but they've also been successful for a lot of artists. Do you ever feel conflicted at all about singing R&B under the halo, so to speak?

Ms. NESBY: Absolutely not. I have the firm belief that all music is God's until we defile it with lyric. When God gives me a story to tell, I'll tell it whether it's labeled, R&B, or whether it's labeled gospel. If God gives me that music and that song in the context of a personal relationship or a spiritual relationship - we have to learn how to treat each other outside of church because we do come home and have a relationship without husbands, our significant others, our children. And we have to learn how to be right within our households first because charity begins at home. So, if there is a lesson to be taught, it can be taught very freely with music.

COX: You know, let's follow-up that point talking about with the new CD "This is Love." This project feels like it straddles two musical worlds to me, R&B and spiritual. Is that what we can always expect when Ann Nesby is singing?

Ms. NESBY: I think that you can expect whatever God gives me, and I'm definitely going to talk about issues that have concerned me or have concerned those I loved because I know that people overcome by the testimony of others and seeing that others can make it. And sometimes, when you're going through something, you feel like you're all by yourself. But if you have that song that talks about that very issue, sometimes fans come up and they say, you know, I just felt like you were singing directly to me because I'm going through that exact thing. And when people come up and say that, I feel like the mission that I've taken on is being completed - in fact, the song, the single that I have now "I Apologize" is a song that we all can relate to. If you're in a relationship, there is times when can't just come right out and stand in front of your mate and say, you know, I'm really sorry.

(Soundbite of "I Apologize")

Ms. ANN NESBY: (Singing) I wanna make it up to you baby Want you to know that I love you

Just a little time Just a little time Just a little time

I'm going to do whatever I have to do To make it up to you Sorry, sorry baby

Just a little time Just a little time Just a little time

I apologize, yeah…

Ms. NESBY: This is just a relationship issue that I put to music.

COX: You know, it's interesting you should mention that song because that was one of the ones I was going to ask you about, because it's really one of those slow, you know, light slow kind of songs, begging for forgiveness, stayed out all night, didn't call, you know? You know what I'm saying.

Ms. NESBY: Yes, yes absolutely.

COX: This is a kind of song that you normally hear the fellows, you know, who gone and done wrong and come home and are begging for their mates to forgive them. You don't usually hear women talking about being out all night long. I got to ask you, how much of this is you, from real life?

Ms. NESBY: Well, this one isn't me, but it is a situation that I know women come up against because sometimes, sisters do go out and they stay out all night with their girls. You know what I'm saying? And sometimes, sisters, we have a little bit of a problem saying I'm sorry sometimes when we're wrong.

COX: You think?

Ms. NESBY: And that's what this song says, pretending like I'm never wrong and blaming everything on you. Well, that's what this song is all about. And some, you know, we have to say I'm sorry too.

COX: Now, let me ask you about one other song. Our time is running a little short. I want to get two more things in here. One song in contrast to the song about "I Apologize" is track number 6, "Thank God."

(Soundbite of "Thank God")

Ms. ANN NESBY: (Singing) I do great Where my eyes do (unintelligible) Oh no, baby My greatest fear would be known To be in love alone Thank God I wasn't in love Thank God…

COX: Parts of this song are almost Aretha-like. In fact, your mom played Aretha in your house, didn't she, when you were young.

Ms. NESBY: Oh, yes she did.

COX: Did some of the queen of soul sink in?

Ms. NESBY: Oh, absolutely. I was listening - my father was actually the first person to introduce me to Aretha, and that didn't happen to be an R&B track. It happened to be the first gospel song that I have heard Aretha sing, and that was "Precious Lord" and she was singing on a recording with her father. And my father said, listen to this, babe. After that when my mother would sit down and listen to Aretha Franklin, I heard her doing a whole different thing. So, some of those licks that you hear me do is an incorporation of listening to Aretha, Gladys, Patty, Stevie, Donny Hathaway. So, I mean, I'm not afraid, I'm not ashamed to say that I owe a lot of the learning that I did from pioneer artists that were great and successful, and I enjoyed everything they did. And I incorporated some of that into the Ann Nesby style.

COX: Gospel audiences are different than non-secular audiences, are they?

Ms. NESBY: Sometimes gospel audiences, I think, are somewhat jaded in that they have great gospel singers that are always in their church all along as they're growing up. You know, when I was growing up, I went to a church that on any given Sunday anyone of the soloists in the choir could slay you and knock you under the bench. So, gospel audiences are already accustomed to great, great singers. So, you really, really, have to be a singer to really, you know, kind of set a church on fire. That's my opinion.

COX: Well, Ann Nesby from what I've heard, you can definitely set a church on fire.

Ms. NESBY: (Laughing) Thank you.

COX: Thank you so much for coming in. The new album is "This is Love."

(Soundbite of "This is Love")

Ms. ANN NESBY: (Singing) And every time I see your lovely smiling face I feel the magic shine…

COX: That was R&B and gospel singer Ann Nesby from a conversation I had with her in October, 2007.

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