LeToya Luckett Gets Real On Music, Healing & Personal Growth
LeToya Luckett is running late to our lunch interview. For most journalists who work in entertainment, this is nothing new. And while the inner me was thinking "typical artist behavior," once she arrived it was clear that she's far from the typical artist.
Dressed in a macramé short set, wide-brim hat and dark sunglasses, it's apparent to the restaurant patrons — even if they don't know who she is exactly — that LeToya is a star. She walks in smiling and apologetic for her tardiness. Definitely not typical. And as I extend my hand to greet her, she immediately comes in for a hug, exclaiming "I'm a hugger." Again, not typical.
With over two decades of experience in the music industry, it's safe to say that Luckett, 36, has earned her stripes. First as a founding member of the GRAMMY Award-winning girl group Destiny's Child (she was in the group from 1993–2000) and then as a solo artist and actress.
We sat down and it automatically felt like I was talking to an old friend. Maybe it's because we're both from Houston, Texas? Who knows? But in the hour we chatted we shared memories of our hometown (we both went to the same high school, The High School for the Performing and Visual Arts), fitness regimens, our love of food, and her secret love of interior design. However, it was the conversation about her music — specifically the creation of her latest album, 2017's Back 2 Life — and her journey of personal growth and healing that came during the recording of the project that struck a chord with me.
It has been nearly a decade since your last album Lady Love (2009). And to be honest, I was close to placing you in the special category of R&B singers who take a long time to release a project — Tweet, Lauryn Hill, D'Angelo. So I have to ask: What took you so long?
It was the acting thing. I would be in my groove, be in the studio. Then I'd have to be in Toronto. Or I would be in Toronto trying to find a studio to finish a song. I got to a point where I was like, "This album deserves time. And I don't want it to start all over the place, because I'm all over the place." I don't know if I was shooting a movie at the time — but I was like, "Let me go back to L.A. and sit in the studio for at least two months. Just really go hard and piece things together." And I have been recording since 2011.
But you were releasing one-off singles though.
Yeah, I was dropping little things — I didn't call them singles because my fans were getting irritated.
So the songs on the album are songs that were recorded years ago?
Some of it. A lot of it is fresh. "I'm Ready" [the opening track on the album], I recorded that in 2012. But because it's such a classic sound and has that Marvin Gaye feel it was timeless. "Grey" [featuring Ludacris] was [recorded] about 2014. The most recent ones were "Middle," "Used To" and [the lead single] "B2L."
And what about the power-ballad "Worlds Apart"?
[That] was like 2014.
Oh! Because you know people are nosy, so I was definitely like, "Is this about her divorce last year [from author Rob Hill Sr.]?"
(Laughs) "What had happened with your relationship?"
There were parts where I went in and rewrote things [or] revisited certain things. But for me I have always been very to myself about my relationships. That's my way of protecting them. Especially when it's new, you want to build that foundation and not put something out there before you really get to know this person. [But] just because I wasn't out and about with my relationship didn't mean I wasn't going through it.
I have interviewed other artists and asked if certain tracks were about their personal life. Usually the response was something like, "No, that was a concept my producer or songwriting partner came up with" or "That song is about a situation that everyone goes through." But I always feel that is a deflection.
I used to do that. It was definitely a deflection because I didn't want people in my business like that. I came up in a time where you had to protect that and you had to have a squeaky-clean image. People want real nowadays. Especially with reality shows and social media. So how dare I not use my platform or my gift to share my testimony or my experiences, and also talk about how God brought me out. And even through all of the bulls*** I am still standing.
These records were my way of release — my form of therapy. I just felt that this album was my time to really step outside of my comfort zone and share in a way that I have never shared before. There is so much freedom in that. And once you do it, people realize that you're human. And they see for themselves, "You know what, this girl is going through the same thing I'm going through." You know what I mean? People want to relate to you.
So, without getting deep into your personal business and the exact details, there are recurring themes in your music. You have recurring songs about upgrading a man that you're no longer with, unrequited love or "I thought this love was the one but it didn't last." There are some patterns there, no?
Absolutely. It's so crazy 'cause one of my big brothers, [and] spiritual brother, John Gray has the show ["The Book Of John Gray"] on OWN. I did one episode. I didn't want to do it but I felt led to do it. If you get to know him you can't help but to speak your truth. We got on the subject of relationships — and I realized some things in that conversation with him, like the patterns. First of all, I am the common denominator: What is it in me that is either attracting or allowing this stuff? What do I need to change in me that won't allow me to put myself in these situations?
I think just during [the past] four [or] five years, I have done so much healing and have had a few come-to-Jesus moments to get me to this point, and I feel better than ever. I feel I have healed in so many different areas. And this album was kind of my first step at releasing that stuff. Everything that you're hearing is my truth.
Speaking of real, would you ever do reality TV?
I haven't done reality TV because I have been on my audition grind. I want to do scripted [television]. I created my own little online series, "Love, Life & Music," years ago, before reality TV got poppin'. I wanted my fans to see that I wasn't just here sitting on my hands. I'm out here every day, grinding and working. And that [series] happened on accident. I literally ran into one of my homegirls out in Vegas. She was out there for her birthday, [and] I was out there for Steve Harvey's Hoodie Awards, and she was like, "Can I follow you around, and [capture] your day-to-day?" When she sent me the footage, I was like, "Wait, this could be something." I had never seen myself in that natural state before on camera, and that's when I created that series. It was positive. But it was hard work.
So why is reality TV a go-to for artists nowadays?
My guess [is] it's definitely a platform for artists that haven't released stuff in a while, or artists who have familiar names but you didn't get to really know them. So [you're able to] see them in their natural light and natural state. If you use [reality TV] right, it can launch you back out there.
Who in music has done reality TV right?
Kandi [Burruss] did the damn thing. People don't know she wrote half of Destiny's Child's [1999 sophomore album] The Writing's On The Wall. Kandi is a dope-a** writer, and about her checks. The way she came on "The Real Housewives Of Atlanta," she did a businesswoman thing and got her coin. Cardi B, she came from being the girl that we thought was so funny on ["Love & Hip Hop"], [she] had no filter. And now she has a hit record ["Bodak Yellow"] — a legit hit record. It's all in the way that you use it.
I hear you're now on the OWN series "Greenleaf" — I love that show!
Well child, get ready for [my character] Rochelle. I am on six to seven episodes. I am strictly acting. No singing. [Just] straight up acting.
So when is the book coming out?
If one more person asks me (laughs). It's a confirmation thing. People keep saying that to me, randomly. So I'm thinking I might just have to [write] one. [But if I do] it, it wouldn't be sleazy, trash talking. I would talk about my growth, my experiences — what I have learned about different things. I [was] so blessed to be a part of Destiny's Child, [and now] to be on my third solo album. I would speak my truth, but not step on anyone else in that process. 'Cause nothing good would come from that.
Photo: Molly Riley/Getty Images
Aretha Franklin Plans To Open Nightclub In Downtown Detroit
Back in February, 75-year-old GRAMMY-winning icon and 2008 MusiCares Person Of The Year Aretha Franklin announced her retirement from touring and that she is at work on a "final" studio album. Now the singer reveals part of her retirement plans include opening a small club in downtown Detroit.
The proposed name of the venue? Aretha's, of course.
"I'm interested in doing a small nightclub downtown, and ... have been talking about this for a couple of years now," Franklin told Rolling Stone, "From time to time I would sing, and of course, I would have special artists come in to perform for the city that people in Detroit like – Detroit favorites."
Franklin first moved to Detroit as a child, and she now currently lives near the Bloomfield Hills area. Although she has announced her plans to cease touring, she is reportedly still hard at work on her album, due out in the fall and featuring a collaboration with Stevie Wonder.
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Louis Armstrong's "What A Wonderful World" Still Poignant At 50
By the time he stepped into the studio to record "What A Wonderful World" in 1967, Louis Armstrong was 66 years old, well into the so-called golden years.
Having enjoyed a nearly 45-year career in jazz and popular music, his status in the jazz world was in a period of denouement, with the emergence of younger players, faster sounds, and the post-war proliferation of more complex styles like bebop.
At a time when the struggle for civil rights and fears of global tensions between world powers were at the forefront of society's collective mind, Armstrong's rendition of the Bob Thiele- and George David Weiss-written pop ballad struck a chord with listeners young and old alike. The simple, almost naive beauty of the lyricism, combined with Armstrong's throaty, smiling delivery made for a winning combination in a world that seemed increasingly dark and unwelcoming.
Following its release, the song climbed to No. 1 on the U.K. singles chart, and nearly broke through to the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 in an era when psychedelic rock and British Invasion guitar pop dominated.
The lasting impact of the song has been immeasurable, with an untold number of artists recording covers throughout the past 50 years – everyone from Joey Ramone to Ziggy Marley to Nick Cave. The original recording was re-released in the U.S. in 1988, and subsequently climbed to No. 32 on the Billboard singles chart. In 1999 the recording was officially inducted into the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame. Armstrong was also posthumous awarded the Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1972.
"What A Wonderful World" is now arguably most famous and identifiable song in Armstrong's catalog, and in a day and age that bear a startling likeness to the fears and uncertainties of the late 60s, stands as a needed reminder that, yes, despite it all, it is still a wonderful world.
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Randy Newman To Join Movie Score Supporters At Free L.A. Concert
A group of Los Angeles music partisans will take to City Hall's south lawn at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 19 to raise awareness and support for state bill AB 1300 — the Music Scoring Tax Credit Bill.
Multiple GRAMMY winner Randy Newman is set to perform in support of the bill. Additionally, Recording Academy California Chapters — Los Angeles and San Francisco — will be among the many local organizations and lawmakers fighting for incentives to help preserve California studio musicians' ability to deliver on cue.
Newman will be joining other announced guests including composer for "This Is Us" Siddhartha Khosla and Rickey Minor, who in addition to being musical director for top gigs like "American Idol" was also the bandleader on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" after Kevin Eubanks' departure. Minor is a current Emmy nominee for his work on "Stayin' Alive: A GRAMMY Salute To The Music Of The Bee Gees."
This multitude of performers and attendees will demonstrate the unity with which political leaders, music organizations, unions, teachers, and orchestras believe we need tax incentives to "Keep The Score In California."
Newman's prolific work has earned him 6 GRAMMY Awards and a track-record of excellence, with his most recent score for Cars 3 still playing in movie theatres. Few people can hear the potential of a musical idea the way Newman can. "Even great orchestras, in London or Berlin, the greatest in the world, couldn't do what our orchestras do," said Newman via Billboard. "No one reads like our musicians do, no other orchestras can play jazz or rock 'n' roll inflected music nearly as well. I think the state should do whatever it can to keep film music here."