With the 2015 release of her debut album, Cheers to the Fall, singer Andra Day quickly established herself as a fresh new voice in the music industry. With that first album earning two Grammy nominations, Day’s rise proved to be a meteoric one. However, what looked from the outside to be an overnight success was actually a long time coming — the culmination of years of hard work and dedication to her craft.
Prior to being discovered by one of music’s most iconic stars, Day carved out a niche on YouTube, performing reimagined cover versions of other artist’s songs, ranging from British singer Jessie J’s “Mama Knows Best” to, improbably enough, Eminem’s “Lose Yourself.” Since dropping that first album, the talented performer proved to be no flash in the pan, demonstrating the kind of creativity and staying power to portend a long, successful career.
She may be best known for her retro-rockabilly fashion sense and a certain iconic anthem, but there’s a lot about this vivacious vocalist than even her biggest fans may not know. Let’s tune into the untold truth of Andra Day.
Andra Day was discovered by Stevie Wonder's wife
A 2010 performance outside a California strip mall proved to be life-changing for Andra Day. As the singer told the Detroit Free Press, footage of that particular performance wound up being seen by fashion designer Kai Millard Morris, who was then married to music legend Stevie Wonder. After Morris encouraged her husband to check out her new musical find, Day received a phone call from the “Superstition” singer himself.
“I was so nervous,” Day told the newspaper. “I kept saying to myself that he’s just a regular person. But in the same breath, I was saying, ‘He’s a legend.’ I felt like a meteor hit my house. It inspired me to keep pushing.” However, it would be another year before she and Wonder would come together, with Day claiming her manager at the time “sabotaged” the relationship. Luckily, they were eventually able to reconnect, with Day ditching said manager and signing to the label owned by producer Adrian Gurvitz.
Years after that first conversation, Day admitted she still finds it surreal to have the Stevie Wonder in her life. “Being with contact with him, even today, it’s still a very weird experience to be like, ‘Oh, hey Steve,'” she quipped on Live Nation TV.
She teamed up with Stevie Wonder for a holiday duet
Not only did Stevie Wonder pave the way for Andra Day’s subsequent musical success, he also invited her to collaborate on a new version of his 1967 holiday song, “Someday at Christmas” in December 2015. Once the music video was released, Day paid tribute to Wonder with a sweet message in the comments section, writing, “Thank you for all of your support along the way. You have truly been there for me since Day 1.” Day later received even more exposure when she and Wonder were featured performing the holiday tune together in a TV commercial for Apple.
While speaking with Live Nation TV the following year, Day shared what she felt to be the most important advice she’s gleaned from her musical mentor. “I think the biggest lesson that I’ve learned from him is to never stop enjoying the process,” she said. “Never stop having fun.” Even though Wonder became her personal friend and collaborator, Day told People that he’s also continued to be one of her biggest sources of musical inspiration, saying, “It’s always Stevie. He has made revolutionary music that inspires me so much.”
Andra Day once worked as a children's party performer
Before Andra Day was discovered by Stevie Wonder, this celeb had some other jobs — a lot of them! During a 2015 interview with the New York Post, the singer estimated that after graduating from the San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts in 2002, she probably held down over 20 jobs, one of which was on an evening paper route. Needless to say, these were not glamorous gigs by any stretch of the imagination.
“They were all interim jobs before I was able to do music full time,” Day later told The San Diego Union-Tribune, revealing that her paper route was actually for this very same publication. “I’d clean apartments that people had moved out of, and that was really gross.” Of all her various day jobs, though, her absolute favorite was performing at children’s parties, entertaining kids while costumed as such beloved characters as Nickelodeon’s Dora the Explorer and Disney’s Minnie Mouse. Aww!
“People always think I must have been 16 when I did that job, but I was actually about 22 or 23,” Day revealed to the Post. “I would challenge myself to have the best Minnie voice. I had so much fun — it was like performing.”
Her hit 'Rise Up' became the unofficial anthem of the Black Lives Matter movement
The year 2015 brought the release of Andra Day’s first studio album, Cheers to the Fall. The album’s first single, “Rise Up,” not only became a hit — peaking at No. 4 on the Billboard 200 chart — but was also adopted as the Black Lives Matter movement’s “unofficial anthem.” Speaking with Time about the song in 2017, Day admitted it was “a huge honor,” saying, “Black Lives Matter represents standing up to oppression and persecution. Having the group connect with ‘Rise Up’ made me more aware that I need to use my platform to serve the community.”
For Day, utilizing her voice to call for social justice is her way of paying homage to artists who came before her and waged similar campaigns. In an interview with Jezebel’s The Muse, she pointed to such performers as Billie Holiday and Nina Simone, singers who “[used] their platforms to talk about race.” Following in the footsteps of her musical forebears, Day explained that isn’t “just a decision,” but rather “a driving force inside me … to do it because you have a platform and you have a responsibility.” Well said.
Andra Day's face appeared on 40 million McDonald's cups
Andra Day’s “Rise Up” didn’t just entertain people, it also moved and inspired them — and she was able to take the song and its powerful message of empowerment to a whole new level courtesy of the world’s biggest fast food chain. As The Associated Press (via Business Insider) reported in 2016, Day’s visage and lyrics from the song were printed on more than 40 million Coca-Cola cups at McDonald’s restaurants throughout the U.S.
“I really hope this gives people a simple reminder to persevere. That’s what the song is all about,” Day stated at the time. “That’s why I like this Coke campaign, because it makes you inspire community. I hope people are able to see the encouraging stories through this.” In addition, anyone who purchased one of the cups was able to view a short documentary inspired by the song, I Rise, simply by scanning the cup on a cell phone.
As Umut Ozaydinli of marketing agency Deviant Ventures put it, “We believe Andra has a very special, timeless voice that needs to be heard.” We couldn’t agree more.
'Rise Up' almost didn't make it onto Andra Day's album
The song that’s become Andra Day’s musical signature almost didn’t wind up on her debut album. When she was recording Cheers to the Fall, she told People, she hadn’t intended “Rise Up” to be on it. “There was actually another song that was slated to be on the album, but we were kind of having trouble with that,” she explained. It was then that a friend working at her record label played her a demo of “Rise Up,” which she had written previously but had apparently forgotten about. “So he played it for me, and I was like, ‘Woah, wait a minute. This is good.'”
As Day told Jezebel‘s The Muse, she found the success of “Rise Up” to be “surprising and not surprising.” She added, “I think that the necessity of the message and how simple it is for people is really what’s grabbing them … to watch it grow, it’s been a blessing for me.” The song’s popularity gathered even more steam upon the release of its powerful music video, created by film director M. Night Shyamalan.
Andra Day has performed at the White House
As “Rise Up” grew from pop hit to cultural anthem, the song’s success provided Andra Day with some amazing opportunities. One of these came in 2016 when she was invited to perform her song at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, backed by a marching band. The year before, however, she was invited to sing “Rise Up” at the White House.
“That was an amazing experience,” Day said in a subsequent interview with KiddNation, revealing that First Lady Michelle Obama had “heard the song and requested for [her] to come and sing.” She remembered the experience of meeting President Barack Obama as being “surreal,” recalling, “In front of me was like Reese Witherspoon and her family, and behind me was Crosby, Stills & Nash.”
Day returned to the White House in February 2016 to take part in a special performance honoring the music of the late Ray Charles, alongside the likes of Usher, Demi Lovato, and Leon Bridges. For her part in the concert — which aired on PBS as Smithsonian Salutes Ray Charles: In Performance at the White House — she performed Charles’ “Drown in My Own Tears.”
The powerful message Andra Day shared at the Oscars
Performing at the Democratic National Convention brought Andra Day to a huge TV audience, yet that was paltry when compared to the time that she joined rapper Common to perform their Oscar-nominated song, “Stand Up for Something,” at the 2018 Academy Awards. While presenting the song, which is from the film Marshall, Common and Day brought a group of activists onstage, all of whom had been immersed in fighting for social change.
“I thought, ‘What if we got people who really do the work?'” Common explained in an interview with Variety. “People who are true activists out in the world and on the front line. People whose lives, whether by circumstance, have become prime movers for change.”
As a result of those efforts, the duo were joined by an impressive roster of people who had been making a difference, including: Alice Brown Otter of the Standing Rock Youth Council; Bana Alabed, Syrian refugee and author; Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative; Cecile Richards of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund; transgender activist and director Janet Mock; Patrisse Cullors of Black Lives Matter; and Tarana Burke, founder of the #MeToo movement.
Why a 12-year-old singer's original song brought Andra Day to tears
Gospel singer Keedron Bryant was just 12 years old when he became a viral sensation after posting a video of himself singing a song called “I Just Want to Live” on Instagram in May 2020. The song, which he wrote himself, shares his experience as “a young Black man” in America, in the wake of nationwide Black Lives Matter protests. The video has amassed more than 3.4 million views, as of this writing.
The following month, Bryant and Audra Day were both interviewed — remotely but simultaneously — by host Tim Kash for Quibi’s Musicology series, with Bryant singing his powerful tune a cappella. As he sang, Day could be seen tearing up, ultimately full-on weeping as she heard him sing such lyrics as, “My people don’t want no trouble / We’ve had enough struggle / I just want to live.”
“He has such a bright spirit,” Day said of Bryant as she wiped away tears. “You really are just a beacon of light and a beacon of hope. And you can see that God has put that in you so powerfully … I hate that you have to sing that, you know what I mean? But I love you and I appreciate you for singing it.”
Andra Day was cast as jazz singer Billie Holiday in a biopic
Lee Daniels has been the guiding force behind such films as Precious and the TV series Empire. In 2019, he revealed his next project would be the feature film The United States vs. Billie Holiday, starring none other than Andra Day. First reported by Deadline, the film would follow the titular jazz singer icon as she found herself in the cross-hairs of the Federal Department of Narcotics.
When casting the lead role, Daniels met with Day at the suggestion of a friend, and they wound up spending hours together in what he described to V Magazine as “a love-fest.” Daniels was floored by “her intelligence [and] wit,” admitting that “her take on the script and on Billie herself impressed [him] so much.” Explaining why he was able to set aside that fact that Day had no onscreen acting experience other than a brief cameo as a singer in Marshall, he added of the star, “Andra, as a songstress [and as a person], understands and relates to Billie as a female black artist,” and marveled at her “uncanny connection” to Holiday. As of this writing, the film is in post-production.
Andra Day believes it's important to face her fears
The title track of Andra Day’s debut album, Cheers to the Fall, is nothing short of an ode to failure, imparting her message that it’s life’s disappointments and defeats that ultimately bring about the greatest lessons to facilitate personal growth. In 2018, the singer spoke at the espnW: Women + Sports Summit about why she doesn’t try to avoid things that make her feel a sense of discomfort.
“It’s one thing to have peace about the places you go,” she explained. “But I’ve never gotten comfortable since I’ve started this journey. I’ve always stepped out on a limb.” In order to keep pushing herself and avoiding artistic complacency, Day declared, “I do the things that might scare me. Go to the places in life or in your heart that are the scariest. We have to face those things, because I think fear is deceiving, right?”
The way Day sees it, running from that which we fear will just delay the inevitable and extend the fearfulness, while facing one’s fears can open new doors we may not even realize were there. “The other side of fear is your potential,” she explained, “it’s your purpose.” Wise words.
Andra Day identified a surprising influence
Andra Day has made no secret of her admiration for mentor Stevie Wonder, yet there are other artists who have also influenced her throughout her musical journey. In an interview with The San Diego Union-Tribune, she highlighted her biggest influences. While some would seem to line right up with expectations — say, iconic jazz vocalists Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and Dinah Washington — the woman she identified as one of her key influences proved to be a surprising one.
“Lucille Ball is one of my biggest inspirations, not just style-wise, but for her character as a woman and being such a pioneer, and for talking about pretty taboo issues on her TV show,” Day told the newspaper, admitting she was also attracted to the art and stylistic aspects of Ball’s 1950s heyday.
Discussing her various red carpet looks with InStyle, Day pointed to the I Love Lucy star as a driving force in her retro fashion choices. “She’d have her red lip and then have her bright copper red hair,” Day said of Ball. “I started doing that on myself. I just like the way it looks and the way it fit my face. It makes my lips look fuller.”
How Andra Day developed her unique retro style
In addition to her powerful voice and distinctive sound, Andra Day has also made a splash with her unique fashion sense. In a 2016 interview with Billboard, the singer’s stylist, Wouri Vice, described Day’s red carpet style as the result of trying to figure out what 1950s “rockabilly” would look like in “a glamorous space.”
Conceiving the outfits that Day would wear for award shows, Vice explained, was a collaborative effort, and the singer definitely had some strong opinions. “I think we push each other,” Vice continued. “She’s very specific in her vision of what she wants to look like. There’s a lot of rockabilly and I try to take that and make it as modern and as fun as possible … she knows how she wants to see herself.”
For Day, individuality is key when it comes to crafting her iconoclastic look. “When I was young, you just want to be accepted,” she told People. “As I got older I feel so much better when I’m free and I’m me. I don’t care how ridiculous [an outfit] looks … when you embrace that, people around you start to embrace it.”
Why Andra Day resurrected 'Make Your Troubles Go Away' for charity
When Andra released her single, “Make Your Troubles Go Away,” in the spring of 2020, it wasn’t simply to share the song with her fans. In fact, the tune’s release was tied to a good cause, with proceeds going to the GiveDirectly charity in order to raise money and help those in need during the very challenging time of the pandemic.
“For me, it was basically how can we get involved, how can we help people?” Day said in an interview with People, explaining, “I’ve always loved this song, and I wanted to make sure that it was being use to serve like it talks about.” She added, “During this time, there are really people who are choosing between food and shelter … right now, people really just need help.”
Interestingly enough, Day told the Today show’s Hoda Kotb that “Make Your Troubles Go Away” was originally intended to be on her first album, Cheers to the Fall. The song was ultimately replaced by her inspiring hit “Rise Up,” leading her to shelve it for a few years. However, Day decided to pull it “out of the archives” when she realized, “It just seemed like it was the perfect moment for it, especially with things that people are going through right now.”
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