For Andra Day, making music is a search for freedom and redemption.
To the 30-year-old San Diego native, this means admitting that she was the villain in her first break-up.
“On Cheers to the Fall [her debut album], I’m talking about an eight-year relationship I was in with a great guy but I cheated on him and broke his heart,” she says. “Then I got my heart broken. It was hard to live with the guilt but that’s how I learned my lesson.”
For us, Andra Day is the throwback soul singer whose truth aims to set you free.
Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Etta James, Lauryn Hill and Janis Joplin are some of the women whose voices speak to Andra Day’s own raspy, full-bodied alto – with special emphasis on the High Priestess of Soul. And just as those who preceded her, she aims to make her own work a mixture of lightness and darkness.
With a classically trained background and early fans that include Questlove, Erykah Badu, Mary J. Blige and Spike Lee, Day initially started her career by creating mash-up versions of various hit songs before composing her own powerful material. After her recent performance at the BET Awards, Billboard went on to describe the Rising singer-songwriter’s voice as “powerful and classic as the great jazz and soul greats that influence her.”
We had Andra Day make an annotated playlist of the songs that have soundtracked her own life.
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Best new song you recently discovered?
“Laputa” by Hiatus Kaiyote.
Favorite song to listen to in the car?
“What Can I Do” by Tye Tribbett.
A song you like to sing in the shower?
Whatever is stuck in my head at the time.
Best song you’ve ever experienced live?
Janelle Monae’s “Electric Lady.”
A song that inspired you?
Billie Holiday’s “You Let Me Down”
Favorite song that you’ve written or performed on?
Tough question. I’m emotionally attached to all of the songs, but I think my favorite from the album is “City Burns.”
A song you wish you had written or performed on?
Another tough question, there are so many.
First song that you learned to play?
“Let it Be” by The Beatles.
Best song to listen to on while touring?
“Window Seat” by Erykah Badu.
A song that represents your childhood?
Gene Wilder singing “Pure Imagination,” from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
A song that represents you as a teenager?
The first song you kissed to?
I don’t know, the guy and I were in a show together. It was my first kiss and we were backstage, so probably a song from Fame [The Musical].
Best song for for when you’re head over heels in love?
“At Last” by Etta James.
Best song for a broken heart?
“I’m a Fool To Want You” by Billie Holiday.
A song that always brings a tear to your eye?
“Pretty Wings” by Maxwell.
Best song for going out on the town?
“Feelin’ It” by JAY Z. I love the jazz sample on that record.
A song you’re embarrassed for loving?
I’m not embarrassed for loving any song, but people always laugh when they discover I like “Riot” by 2 Chainz and “Teenage Dream” by Katy Perry.
The song you’ve probably heard more times than any other.
“Strange Fruit” Billie Holiday.
The song that best describes your life?
“Thank You Jesus” By Kim Burrell.
The song that means the most to you?
Anything by Nina Simone and Billie Holiday.