Andra Day is laughing about her past few days.
She started at the Oscars, walking the red carpet before the awards show and performing at the Governors Ball after it in Los Angeles. Later that week, she found herself in New York, performing at Radio City Music Hall with Elton John and Katy Perry at a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid.
“I’m still processing it now,” she says the morning after the fundraiser, with a laugh. “You go through your entire life thinking there are things you won’t ever see or be a part of and then you witness things like the Oscar. It’s amazing. I just don’t get it, that I was a part of it.”
Such is the life of a star on the rise. But like most singers, Day’s current “overnight success” — with her dramatic, soulful single “Rise Up” and her Grammy-nominated debut “Cheers to the Fall” (Warner Bros.) — took a long time.
“I’m 31 now and all the time I was wondering, ‘How come this isn’t happening?’ or ‘When will this happen?’ I was mentally and spiritually not ready for all of this,” Day says. “I do feel more ready now.”
Day knew at the age of 16, as a student at the San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts, that she wanted to be a singer. Her raspy, distinctive alto quickly drew attention, eventually being discovered by Stevie Wonder’s wife Kai when Day performed at a store opening. Kai Wonder introduced her to her husband, who put Day in contact with producer Adrian Gurvitz and they began working on music together.
However, what initially brought Day widespread attention were here unconventional mash-ups on YouTube, a creative outlet that she still continues to use.
“It is something that comes naturally,” says Day, who has combined The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Big Poppa” with Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” and patched together Amy Winehouse’s “He Can Only Hold Her” and Lauryn Hill’s “Doo Wop (That Thing).” “It’s about hearing songs differently, singing different lyrics on top of a melody, putting hip-hop on top of jazz. My sister and I still do it when we get together. We’re going to do that on tour. It’s fun for me.”
That unique approach also informs her own music, which brings together elements of hip-hop, jazz and old-school soul. However, her lyrics are straight from her life.
“It’s very much an autobiography,” Day says of “Cheers to the Fall.” “I’m just thrilled that the songs have done what I wanted them to do, what they were created to do.”
Day says the reaction to her inspirational “Rise Up,” which has been used as an anthem for everyone from cancer survivors to members of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, has been surprising.
“It was about hope and perseverance for me, but it has been used by people striving for it in so many facets of life that I could not even have imagined,” Day says. “In the past year, I have met so many cancer survivors who tell me the song is inspiring, that ‘Rise Up’ is so healing, that it has helped them get through chemotherapy. That is so fulfilling.”
But it is also Day’s delivery that makes “Rise Up” so special. When people first see Day perform, she usually wins them over — a fact that can actually be chronicled in these tech-filled days.
According to Nielsen Music, Day’s performance of “Rise Up” on the Grammys last month was the night’s biggest winner, leading to a 429 percent spike in sales of “Cheers to the Fall” the next day, the biggest jump for any Grammy-nominated album. She was also the artist who saw the second-biggest jump on streaming sites following the ceremony, with her streams jumping 82 percent overnight.
Day hopes that conversion rate will continue with her current headlining tour, which stops at Webster Hall on March 25, and her upcoming opening gigs with soul man Leon Bridges.
“I’m very excited about it,” says Day, who plans to add her version of Queen’s “I Want It All” that was used in the current Diet Coke campaign to the set list. “I keep adding more songs from the album and it’s really coming together. It’s taking the music to another level. It’s really exciting.”
Day says she learned a great deal from opening for Lenny Kravitz last year. “I looked at Lenny’s audience and it was the epitome of a crossover audience,” she says. “That’s how I wanted my show. I didn’t want to box it in or say this show caters to this type of person. … I think the tide of music is changing. We don’t have to worry about rules. We should just do what feels good.”