Kandace Springs Pays Tribute To 'The Women Who Raised' Her

Kandace Springs' third record is a source of familiarity in uncertain times. Titled The Women Who Raised me, it's full of beloved and recognizable songs associated with jazz artists who inspired and influenced Springs as an artist: Nina Simone, Billie Holiday, Lauryn Hill and Norah Jones, among many others. But the album is not only a tribute to some of those legends, it's also a showcase of Springs' talent for reinterpreting and seamlessly blending genres.

NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro spoke to Kandace Springs about the long-ruminating idea, the importance of Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit," and running into Norah Jones in the bathroom at the Nashville airport. Listen to the radio version at the audio link above and read on for highlights of the interview.

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Interview Highlights

On her long-standing desire to record a tribute to her heroes

My dad was playing me Nina Simone since I was eight years old, and then he gave me a Norah Jones record, and then he gave me a Roberta Flack record and I took some classes through my teens into — now I'm 31. Over time I've grown listening to these artists and learning their tone and texture and the way they interpret songs. I just love the way they write stuff and sing; it just has moved me over the years. Most of them play and were really, really strong characters as well, so I've learned a lot from them. It's a tribute record to give back to what they've inspired me to do as an artist.

On how a chance encounter with Norah Jones led to a collaboration honoring Ella Fitzgerald

It was really cool meeting up with Norah. I ran into her at the bathroom, of all places, in the Nashville airport. She had done something else, and I was coming back from doing the Winter Jazz Fest in New York, and we just met there coming out of the [bathroom]. We exchanged numbers, and I texted her a little bit later and she was like "Absolutely, I would love to be on your record." We've kind of known each other for the last six, seven years since I signed with Blue Note, but just never really gotten close like that, so it's really nice. And she invited me over to her apartment and we sat down at her little upright piano and picked out songs. We were playing everything from like "Lush Life" and "Sophisticated Lady" and all these awesome songs that Ella did and we landed on "Angel Eyes."

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It was one of the happiest moments of my life. I remember listening to her when I was like 12 or 13 years old and hearing her on the radio, and my dad would always joke "That girl stole your gig," because she plays piano and sings. I really looked up to her, and to actually sit less than 10 feet from her — she was on a beautiful Steinway and I sat down at a little vintage Wurlitzer, a 140B model. And we both played and took turns doing the verse lines and started harmonizing at the end. It's just a moment I'll never forget. And her skill is just impeccable.

On getting mentored by Prince

I just posted a video, this is in 2014, of me doing a cover of Sam Smith's "Stay With Me." You know, that song was a big thing at that time. And I put it on YouTube and then another blog company retweeted it for us, just to help. And apparently Prince saw it and he retweeted it and then he called my record label. Before I know it, literally four days later, I'm at Paisley Park with him there, with New Power Generation Quartet and Third Eye Girl all in the same room. It was amazing, it's something I'll never forget. The thing he would always say is to not cover up my voice too much and stick with live instruments and production like that. And I agree with him. My dad would always say the same thing as well, so I respect that a lot.

On covering Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit"

I always describe the song as beautiful and yet it's ugly; it's bittersweet when you listen to it and the lyrics. It's a time in history that people should be aware of, and just think about Billie Holiday in the '30s when she came out and sang it, what she would have been going through at that time. It took a lot of bravery. But the song is a timeless song. I think the younger generation should be aware of it and hear it.

One fascinating story about Billie: When she would sing it, she would tell her audience not to applaud after she performed that song. And after the last note rang, they would turn the lights off and she would leave the stage. And when they turned the lights back on there would be no one there, just to kind of leave an impact.

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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

My next guest, Kandace Springs, is here to bring us all a little familiarity in these uncertain times.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "KILLING ME SOFTLY")

KANDACE SPRINGS: (Singing) Strumming my pain with his fingers, singing my life with his words...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Her third record, titled "The Women Who Raised Me," is comprised of songs associated with female jazz artists who inspired and influenced Springs as an artist, including Nina Simone, Billie Holiday, Lauryn Hill, Norah Jones and many others. But this album is not only a tribute to some of those legends. It's also a showcase of Springs's talent for reinterpreting and seamlessly blending genres that has reviewers calling it her most impressive offering yet.

And Kandace Springs joins me now from Nashville. Welcome.

SPRINGS: Hi. How are you doing?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm doing well. How are you doing?

SPRINGS: I'm doing pretty good - just been kind of hanging out with all this craziness.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Good.

SPRINGS: Yeah.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Every conversation has to start with that. How you doing? How you holding up?

SPRINGS: (Laughter) Yep.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So this is an album you've said that you wanted to do forever. Tell us why.

SPRINGS: Man, listening to all these women - my dad's - was playing me Nina Simone since I was 8 years old. And then he gave me a Norah Jones record. Then he gave me a Roberta Flack record. And then I took some classes through my teens into - now I'm 31. I've just grown listening to these artists and learning their tone and texture and the way they interpret songs. And I've learned a lot from them. And so it's a tribute record to give back to what they've, you know, inspired me to do as an artist these days.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, let's talk about some of the music. You actually got one of your music idols onto this album - someone you just mentioned, Norah Jones.

SPRINGS: Yes.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Here's the song "Angel Eyes." Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ANGEL EYES")

NORAH JONES: (Singing) Order anything you see.

SPRINGS: (Singing) Have fun, you happy people.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That was intended to be a tribute to Ella Fitzgerald, right?

SPRINGS: That's right. Yeah. It was really cool meeting up with Norah. I ran into her at the bathroom, of all places, in the Nashville airport. She had (unintelligible) Willie Nelson, and I was coming back from doing the Winter Jazzfest in New York. And we just met there, coming out of the (laughter) - and exchanged numbers. And I texted her a little bit later. And she was like, absolutely; I'd love to be on your record. And she invited me over to her apartment, and we sat down at her little upright piano and picked out songs. We were playing everything from, like, "Lush Life" and "Sophisticated Lady" and all these awesome songs that Ella did. And we landed on "Angel Eyes."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ANGEL EYES")

KANDACE SPRINGS AND NORAH JONES: (Singing) And why my angel eyes ain't here. And why my angel eyes ain't here.

SPRINGS: (Singing) Oh, no, no.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What was it like to finally perform with her?

SPRINGS: This - one of the happiest moments of my life. I really looked up to her. And just being able to actually sit, like, less than 10 feet from her - just a moment I'll never forget. And her skill is just impeccable.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, speaking of legends, you have actually performed with Prince. And he was a sort of a mentor to you, right? How did that happen?

SPRINGS: He was. It was a kind of a freak thing. It was - I just posted a video - this is in 2014 - of me doing a cover of Sam Smith's "Stay With Me."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STAY WITH ME")

SPRINGS: (Singing) Guess it's true I'm not good at a one-night stand. But I still need your love 'cause I'm just human.

I put it on YouTube, and another blog company, like, retweeted it for us and - just to help (unintelligible). Apparently, Prince saw it, and he retweeted it. And then he called my record label. Before I know it, literally three or four days later, I'm at Paisley Park...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Oh, my God. That must've been amazing.

SPRINGS: ...With him there, with New Power Generation Quartet and 3rdeyegirl all in the same room, which is amazing. So it's something I'll never forget. The thing he would always say is to not cover up my voice too much and stick with live instruments and production like that. And I agree with him. My dad would always say the same thing as well. So I respect that a lot.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STAY WITH ME")

SPRINGS: (Singing) Stay with me. Stay with me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I got to ask you. As a musician and as a person going through this time, what do you think would be something that we should hear?

SPRINGS: You know, I have to choose a song that's moved me. And we played it all over the world and seen it move other people and heard amazing stories behind it. It was written by Lucie Silvas and Judie Tzuke. It's called "Place To Hide."

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you mind singing a few stanzas?

SPRINGS: Sure (laughter). Let me get my key here. I got my piano right here.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This is the advantage of having someone be at home.

SPRINGS: You want this acapella?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I think whatever you want.

SPRINGS: Here we go. It's called "Place To Hide."

(Singing) If you're lonely anytime, you can talk to me. If there's trouble on your mind, I will always be here to shield you from it all the best way that I can - anything you want from me. Call me day. Call me night. Call me anytime you need someone to hold you. Tears in your eyes will be gone. They will dry. And if you still find that you can't face the world outside, yeah, no, let me be your place to hide.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That was exactly what my soul needed. Thank you very much.

SPRINGS: Thank you. I appreciate you guys.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Kandace Springs. Her new album is "The Women Who Raised Me."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "(IN MY) SOLITUDE")

SPRINGS: (Singing) In my solitude... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.