It’s all about love

Tue, 10/30/2007 - 3:57pm
By: Emily Baldwin

Vocal powerhouse releases sixth solo effort

It’s all about love

She’s been nominated for five Grammy Awards – the highest honor in the music industry – and walked away with two of the gilded gramophone statuettes; she has written songs for legends Patti LaBelle and Gladys Knight; she has taken stage to perform both as the leader of a 30-piece gospel choir and alone as a solo artist; and she earned four consecutive Top 5 hits on the Hot Dance Music/Club Play charts for her first solo album. These are just a handful of the many accomplishments Fayetteville resident Ann Nesby lists on her impressive resume.

Nesby, an accomplished singer, songwriter and actress, may have more achievements marked off on her life “to-do” list than most people ever dream of, but that’s no reason for her to start slowing down. Rather, the humble songstress believes that, in order to be and to remain successful, one must never stop working for that success.

“I never want to be in a place where I feel like I can just relax and just rest on my laurels,” said Nesby. “Because I’m nominated for a Grammy, I want to continue, because I want to be able to be in a place where I can be nominated for years to come, hopefully.”

This work ethic is part of what makes Nesby a force to be reckoned with in the recording industry.

Hailing from Joliet, Illinois, Nesby credits her parents both for her singing ability and for her musical influences. “Both my parents are very, very musically inclined and they’re both from musically inclined families,” stated Nesby. “Growing up, both my parents sang in gospel quartet groups, and they would rehearse in our home. We always had a piano there, and my parents always listened to great music.”

Nesby says she began singing as early as age two around her home, but performed for the first time in church when she was just 4 years old, performing a duet with her father and then singing her first solo that same year.

It was her father who first introduced her to one of her favorite singers of all time. “He actually introduced me to Aretha Franklin on one of her father’s albums, which was a preaching message that he allowed her to sing on at the age of 14,” said Nesby. “[My father] brought me in, he said, ‘I have something that I really want you to hear. I think you could sing this song. I want you to listen to it. She’s singing on her father’s message.’”

Nesby rose to fame as the powerhouse lead singer for the ensemble group Sounds of Blackness. During her tenure with the group, from the mid-1980s until her departure in 1995, the Sounds of Blackness won two Grammy awards – one in 1991 and the other in 1993 – and signed to the record label of famed producing duo Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Perspective Records.

In 1996 Nesby launched out on her own, releasing her first solo album, “I’m Here For You,” produced by Jam and Lewis. While Nesby’s time with Sounds of Blackness was “cherished” and “a time of learning,” she feels that branching out on her own has given her the opportunity to be creative and connect with her audience one-on-one while telling her own personal story. “It was a wonderful thing for me to be able to step away because it also meant maturity for me as an artist,” added the vocalist.

Nesby’s first effort was a success, spending a remarkable 60 weeks on R&B best-selling lists, and included the women-empowerment theme “I’m Still Wearing Your Name” as well as the romantic ode “This Weekend.”

Nesby’s next endeavor, “Love Is What We Need: The Essentials,” garnered her two dance singles that peaked at number one and two on Billboard’s Dance Chart, “Lovin’ Is Really My Game” and the title track, when the anthology was released in 2001.

Nesby acquired her third Grammy nomination in 2003 for her hit duet with Al Green on the title of her 2002 album “Put It on Paper.”

From the beginning of her solo career, Nesby evaded being labeled in one category or another, always diversifying her work and her offerings. After the success of “Put It on Paper,” Nesby took a break from mainstream R&B, and instead took a turn as an actress in the 2003 musical comedy “The Fighting Temptations.” The movie, which was filmed locally, starred Beyonce Knowles and Cuba Gooding Jr. Her experience she describes as “awesome!”

“My expectations going in, you know how you have a preconceived kind of expectation of what the great artists are going to be like – not only for Beyonce but also for Cuba Gooding – I was pleasantly surprised that they are not only world-class artists, but they are also world-class actors and actresses and people,” Nesby remarked of her experience working with the two. “And I think we can definitely attribute it to their parents and how they coincide with their parents and how they take directives from their parents as being the reason why they are the great artists they are.

“Beyonce was always very loving, very close to her parents and always listening and taking directives, advice, which I loved so much. Also Cuba, whose father was in the industry for years and years – one of the lead singers for The Main Ingredient – and I think the showmanship definitely came from his father. And his mother, who was an awesome woman of God, I think they were just raised in a great environment.”

That year Nesby also released her fourth solo album, “Make Me Better,” which has been described as “an inspirational treasure chest of urban grooves.” This album would earn Nesby yet another Grammy nomination in 2004.

Nesby’s work on “The Fighting Temptations” wasn’t contained to the screen, however, and her work on the film’s soundtrack – a duet with gospel legend Shirley Caesar entitled “The Stone” – procured Nesby a fifth Grammy nomination in 2005.

Having been nominated five times, and with two wins in her pocket, Nesby says of being nominated, “It’s a very awesome place and a wonderful feeling because it’s the nomination of your peers. They’re saying, ‘You’re absolutely worthy to be in the top.’ It’s a great honor and I don’t take it lightly. I feel wonderfully blessed to have a gift that would allow me to be in the company of great artists.”

Asked if she feels pressure when working on new projects, based on her past success, Nesby said, “I feel like I don’t want to allow it to give me any pressure, because what I want to do is sing and write great music that people will enjoy. Hopefully it will help people when they go through crises.

“I write from a truth from my heart. And because I am a Christian, I always try to give a good directive, and because of who I am, I always try to lead the listener to a good reference of God and what prayer can do and what God can do from my experience.”

Nesby released her first traditional gospel album, “In The Spirit,” last year while cheering on the next generation of family musicianship. Her granddaughter, Paris Bennett, was among the top five finalists on the nationally televised singing competition, “American Idol,” where she proved that the family music gene was still strong.

Never one to stay still for long, Nesby was back in the studio right away working on her first R&B collection in five years. She released her newest album, “This Is Love,” on September 25 of this year, and says her next project is already in the works. “I never stopped writing,” said the prolific composer. As if an album release, including press and appearance tours, as well as writing for a new album, weren’t enough, Nesby has also been touring with a gospel play.

“This Is Love” is a fitting title for the work that Nesby says comes from a “good place,” revolving around “relationships and love and treating each other right. ...The music that I do is still about love and about how God wants us to treat each other in our relationships on a daily basis.” Songs on the album deal with love at first sight, taking time to appreciate what you have in a relationship and learning to say “I’m sorry,” and include several up-tempo dance songs in addition to the ballads.

“I have such a vast clientele. I have my gospel fans, I have R&B fans, and I try to stay loyal to them, because that’s the music I grew up with,” stated Nesby about her eclectic offerings.

While “This Is Love” further solidifies Nesby’s place among the great vocalists of her time, it also demonstrates her gift as both an experienced songwriter and a talented story-teller through song. Nesby has co-written each of the ten songs on the new album, along with a new crop of producers.

It was her work with her early producers which opened up her opportunity to write for such great singers as Patti LaBelle (“Right Kind of Lover”) and Gladys Knight (“Phone Call Home Alone”).

“I had good mentorship, good direction, working with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, on my first project. I had the opportunity to work with world-class producers, who were artists first themselves, and they gave me great advice,” recalled Nesby. “When I was writing my first project, they allowed me an opportunity to write a song for Miss Patti LaBelle, a song that I was actually writing for myself, and they were producing her.”

Lewis recommended that she get her feet wet by writing for other, more established artists in the business. This advice gave her a chance to both compose for artists she loved, but also gave her a chance to watch these artists at work and to learn from their processes, work ethic and how they prepared themselves.

As a songwriter, Nesby says she draws her inspiration “and every gift that I have from God. I give God all the credit, because I feel it’s Him who gives the ideas and I am just a follower.”

Topics she writes about, she says, tend to come out of whatever she feels she needs to talk about or share in the moment or topics she feels would be a help to others. The song “Tables Turn,” from her new album, was written after a conversation with her husband and manager Timothy Lee.

It is Lee who she credits with many of the blessings in her life. “Apart from all that God does for us, I have to attribute some of those blessings to Him using Tim, because Tim is an awesome manager and husband. In these days, having your business partner be your husband, it can be kind of strenuous. But I think, because of his spirit, it has been an awesome run.”

It was with Lee’s support that Nesby faced a challenging and frightening time in her life. “It’s been almost three years now, I suffered from congestive heart failure and diabetes, and I went through a terrible time with my health,” she recalled. Her doctor suggested that she should consider having bypass surgery, an idea with which she was not at first comfortable. After the realization that she would be better able to share her gift of music with the world with her health in tact, Nesby decided to undergo the surgery. “I prayed about it, and put it in God’s hands,” she said. Since then she has lost 129 pounds and looks and feels better than ever. “This particular project was so much easier on me because of the change in my lifestyle,” said the now-slim and trim singer. “I think it’s one of the greatest moves I could have ever made in my life.”

Portions of Nesby’s album can be heard both on her MySpace website,, as well as on her official website,, where supporters can join the fan club. Music can also be purchased from her official site, and both websites offer further information on her appearance schedule.

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