On Monday, March 21, at 5:30 p.m. PT/ 8:30 p.m. ET, Andra Day’s concert at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in D.C. will stream on Yahoo Live. Click here to watch!
(Andra Day onstage at the 2016 Grammy Awards. Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images for NARAS)
Breakout retro-soul chanteuse Andra Day almost didn’t get to have her big moment performing at the Grammys in February. “The day before I [came down with] strep throat, and I couldn’t believe it. Everybody was praying for me, and this throat doctor gave me some antibiotics,” says the 31-year-old singer, who was set to duet with Ellie Goulding in a mashup of Day’s “Rise Up” and Goulding’s “Love Me Like You Do.” “Right before I went onstage I was able to sing some, and then I got onstage and the first few notes felt a little rocky, but after that my voice was back. It was such a miracle.”
While she may have lost in both of the R&B categories she was nominated for her debut album, Cheers to the Fall, the performance was a major win for Day. Afterward, she received praise from people like Janelle Monáe, Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard, and Stevie Wonder. The latter has served as both a mentor and collaborator: He introduced Day to her producer Adrian Gurvitz (who signed her to Buskin Records), played harmonica on Cheers to the Fall, and revisited “Someday at Christmas” with her in an Apple holiday commercial. “Stevie called me at the Grammys to tell me how proud of me he was,” says Day. “I was in the bathroom backstage on the phone with him, just ready to cry.”
Another special occurrence backstage at the Grammys involved the biggest pop star on the planet: Adele. “My dad had a nice moment with Adele right before she went onstage to perform,” says Day. “He was standing backstage and then he leans over to her and, in typical father fashion, says, ‘You know, my daughter is Andra Day.’ She is so sweet, starts rubbing his back and is just like, 'Oh my God! You should be so proud. Her voice is so powerful.’ ”
Day — whose real name is Cassandra Batie — has been honing those powerful pipes since her days at the San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts, when she was influenced by classic jazz vocalists like Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, and Ella Fitzgerald. (In fact, her stage name is a nod to Holiday’s nickname “Lady Day.”) Her breakthrough happened when she became a YouTube sensation with covers like Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” and Muse’s “Uprising.” Co-writing all of Cheers to the Fall, which was released last August, Day channels “big inspiration” Amy Winehouse on tracks like “Forever Mine” and “Only Love.”
Coming off her Grammy performance, Day has felt the love rising up on her headlining national tour, which continues through March 30. “The most amazing thing is being onstage and watching the audience sing every song lyric for lyric,” she says. “It’s been really incredible.” Next month she’ll join Leon Bridges, another new R&B throwback, on the road. “He and I met last year at Sundance [Film Festival], and we just became friends from that moment,” says Day. “He’s kind of become like a younger brother to me.”
Despite her newfound fame, though, people still sometimes mistake Day for Rihanna. “I had a driver the other day, and she was like, 'Are you Rihanna?’ I said, 'No, sorry, I’m not Rihanna.’ A few minutes later, she said, 'Well, if you are Rihanna, I need a picture with you.’ I was like, 'OK.’ But now people are more familiar with me.”