Interviews

Lee Mo: Spreading Soul From The East Coast

Lee Mo is an up and coming jazz/soul/R&B vocalist hailing from Baltimore, Maryland and currently performing out of Philadelphia, PA, two of the nation’s hotbeds for musical talent of all sorts. She’s been given a public vote of confidence from the legendary Anita Baker. Velvety, chocolatey tones and well-practiced vocal technique combine for something truly fresh but also reminiscent of iconic black soul singers of yesteryear. I got a chance to chat with this sweet soul of a singer to discuss her roots, how she’s grown since and where she’s going. Check it out:

The Vince Anthony Show: So, tell me a bit about yourself

Lee Mo: I’m a black girl from Baltimore, born and raised. I love music. I was adopted into a family headed by a religious single mother, which meant lots and lots of church, and that’s where I first started singing.

TVAS: What made you want to pursue artistry professionally?

Lee Mo: As a kid, I picked up on some natural ability to imitate singers and play melodies on the piano by ear. I kept working on it throughout the years. Pursuing artistry for me isn’t something I feel like I have a choice in doing. I would be cutting off a part of who I am if I didn’t. My artistry is my life, it is more than just singing to me.

TVAS: Could you say a bit more about how innate music is to you?

Lee Mo: It’s something I’ve always had an ear for. I remember playing on a toy keyboard as a kid. My sister taught me Mary Had A Little Lamb (I still remember the colors!). After that, I started to just pluck out the melody of any song that came to mind. It was the same with singing. I could make my voice sound like anyone. I mimicked a lot of singers as a kid, picking out their inflections and runs. It was fun for me!

TVAS: That’s really dope! Can you tell me about the music you’re performing now?

Lee Mo: Right now, I’m really into performing Sade, Anita Baker and others in that vein. Their individual sounds are very organic and that is something that I want to portray with my original music, too.

TVAS: I’ve seen Anita Baker interact with you quite a bit on Twitter. What’s that been like for you?

Lee Mo: It’s unbelievable. I appreciate her being down to earth and sharing life gems as well as regular conversation with me. My friend calls her my fairy god-mother, haha. I’ll take that!

TVAS: I’d say that’s fitting based on what I’ve heard from you. Let’s talk about your music!

Lee Mo: Okay! Whatchu wanna know?

TVAS: Any singles out?

Lee Mo: I have two singles out currently. Don’t Have A Reason and One Last Chance.

TVAS: Both of these seemed to be received really well! What was the inspiration for these two?

Lee Mo: It’s humbling to see and hear people express such great feelings about the two songs. They are basically about different points in a relationship. One is about being unsure about the faithfulness of your partner, and the other is about forgiveness with a stern warning that they better not mess up again.

TVAS: Those are some deep yet relatable topics. Your beautiful voice helps carry the message just fine.

Lee Mo: I try, haha. I can relate as well. I want my music to express things that we’ve all been thinking and feeling And I want to do it in a simple, palatable, relatable way.

TVAS: Mmhm. Let’s talk about your recent trip to Europe. What were you doing over there?

Lee Mo: I ended up in Europe through a Facebook post, really. My friend shared that she was looking for a couple more singers for a European tour, and I was the first to respond. She had me contact the company with my bio, some videos, and they replied almost immediately saying that they would like to have me. We worked out all the necessary business and that’s basically how I ended up in Europe. It was an extremely eye-opening experience for me. For one, I hadn’t realized how real it was for black people to live in Europe. I met so many black singers making careers in Germany and in France. I hadn’t really thought of that as a possibility for myself. I needed that.

TVAS: Can you see yourself making music out of Europe?

Lee Mo: Absolutely. I mean, they do things kind of differently there, but it’s definitely possible to make a living there.

TVAS: Dope. Are there any artists or producers you’d like to collaborate with?

Lee Mo: Hmm…I hope to get up with Cory Henry and do something. I think that’d be dope. If I could get with Stevie Wonder, Pharrell or Frank Ocean that’d be dope too!

TVAS: Nice wish list! What advice would you give to aspiring artists, specifically singers?

Lee Mo: I would say…make sure you really like what you’re doing. Keep striving to like what you’re creating. Don’t be afraid to start over. And don’t be afraid to wait.

TVAS: Lee Mo, it was great talking with you!

Lee Mo: Well thank you! This was really fun

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Check out Lee Mo’s music @ www.leemomusic.com and Soundcloud

Follow her on Twitter & Instagram @Musica_LeeMo

Music I Like

Music I Like: Nina Simone – “Wish I Knew How It Feels To Be Free”

Nina Simone, being black.
Nina Simone, being black.

A friend in college first introduced me to Nina Simone. I heard her sing Feelin’ Good on a commercial for a watch or a car or something. I wasn’t fond of her voice at first, but I couldn’t help but be interested. Over the years, I’ve actually grown to love her, even beyond her music. My two favorite songs of hers are My Name Is Peaches and today’s feature, Wish I Knew How It Feels To Be Free.

The live version from the Montreaux Jazz Festival is my recording of choice of this particular song. It is heavy with spirit. I don’t remember the last time I’ve seen someone be so honest. From what I gather from photos of her, quotes from her and the music she made, I get a very candid and forthright impression from her. There are not very many pictures of her smiling that I’ve seen. Upon the discovery of her struggles and behaviors, I felt even more connected to her. Nina Simone was as honest as I can only hope to be. Of all of the songs I’ve heard from her, Wish I Knew How It Feels To Be Free displays that best.

It’s a straight up cry of the heart. The skill with which she played made the piano seem like an extension of herself. She sang clearly and heavily to convey the freight of not knowing freedom. This performance was a moment to make a space for herself to experience freedom, whether fabricated for four or so minutes of mirage or otherwise. She performed at the highest level, but she knew what was awaiting her when the curtain closed: a cold, hard and binding world (and you knew she knew that). Her on-stage movements were slack and loose, as if moseying in her own living room. Her countenance was impenetrably conversational, even before masses of folks looking for performance. She denied them performance and gave them truth and they still left happy. She was not the typical, swayed-by-the-people artist and it hardly feels right to call her a performer.

She gave and continues to give people herself.

I tried imagining what it felt like for her to be refused acceptance to Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music, knowing that she deserved to be there. The audition was said to be a success, but not successful enough to combat plagued, racists minds that denied her entry. This stunted her dream of being the first black female classical pianist. She was obviously skilled and talented. Curtis’ prestige would be hardly tainted if she had been a notable alumni, but she wasn’t good* enough to be there?

She played in Philly clubs, anyway, and that served as a launchpad for her illustrious career which spans over 25 years and includes more than 40 albums. In my mind she is a symbol for Black resilience.

Nina Simone, 1965
Nina Simone, 1965

In a 1991 interview in France, she was almost brought to tears about the fact that she wasn’t the first black female classical pianist. By that time, though, she had become a major proponent for social justice through protest music. She had become best friends with Miriam Makeba who was doing the same thing at the same time in South Africa. If you take a closer look at her documented life, you’ll discover her strong convictions being manifested in a lot of interesting ways. I encourage you to take a closer look for yourself and see if you don’t admire her.

Whatever you find will most certainly be genuinely Nina Simone.