Meet Emeli Sande – The Scottish Aretha Franklin

On stage: Emeli Sande's Live At The Albert HallOne year ago this week, Emeli Sandé’s first album entered the charts at number one.  Twelve months on, Our Version Of Events is enjoying its 53rd consecutive week in the Top Ten – a record for a debut bettered only by The Beatles’ Please Please Me in 1963 – and the woman behind it is a household name.

The Scottish singer-songwriter crowned an exceptional year on Wednesday night by winning two Brits – best female and best album – while her debut was the only album to sell a million copies in Britain last year. She performed at the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympic Games, while next month’s UK tour is a complete sell-out. Strangest of all, the 25-year-old managed to achieve all this without exploiting her sexuality or getting embroiled in a celebrity scandal.

An old-fashioned pop star, she has kept her private life to herself.

With Sandé, it is all about the songs, a virtue emphasized by this week’s release of her first live album. Recorded last November, Live At The Royal Albert Hall is a CD and DVD double-pack that reiterates the qualities that have made the singer pop royalty. It features hits such as Heaven and Next To Me, and wraps her soulful, heart-stopping voice in atmospheric strings and seductive rhythms.Monochrome: Sande arriving at the ceremony on the red carpetWith intimate, piano-led songs her forte, the centerpieces are the ballads Clown and River, back-to-back tracks that are simultaneously sad and uplifting. On Clown, she admits to being a novice pianist, but her performance is still mesmerizing.

Other highlights include a haunting take on the Cup Final hymn Abide With Me (as sung at the Olympics opening ceremony) and a note-faithful cover of Nina Simone’s I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free.

‘From the age of eight, she’s been my inspiration,’ says Emeli.

As live albums go, it isn’t perfect. Emeli has the soulful voice and songwriting abilities of Simone, but she has yet to acquire the stagecraft that is a hallmark of her other great influence, Alicia Keys. While the New Yorker will fall back on her inner showgirl when she plays a big venue, the naturally reserved Sandé can seem overwhelmed by the occasion.

‘Wow, I’m playing the Royal Albert Hall,’ she says. ‘This is my wildest dream come true — and it’s all happened so quickly.’

Her fans, however, react warmly to her girl-next-door charm, especially when she touchingly dedicates songs to her watching mum, dad and sister Lucy. Trim figure: Emeli debuts her slimmer figure after slimming down before trying to crack the USIf the tender, reflective nature of Sandé’s material threatens to make this album slightly one-paced, the singer is inspired in her choices of collaborators, and guest appearances by rapper Professor Green (on Read All About It) and singer Labrinth (on Beneath Your Beautiful) ensure that the energy levels soar at the end of the evening.

Beyond her undoubted artistry, though, what has made Sandé such a star?

The thing that sticks out the most about the singer is how down to earth she still is. In an era of TV-created idols, she offers something different:

The daughter of a Zambian father, Joel, who moved to Britain on a scholarship and now teaches engineering, and an English mother, Diane, from Cumbria, she was raised in a small, conservative village in the Aberdeenshire countryside.

Dramatic weight loss: Singer Emeli Sandé cuts a slimmer figure on the red carpet at the pre-Grammy party on Saturday night, and seen right at the MOBO Awards last NovemberFrom there, she went not to stage school but the University of Glasgow, where she completed a medical degree, specialising in Clinical Neuroscience.
In the final year of her studies, she spent time in hospital wards meeting patients with spinal injuries and schizophrenia. Had she not taken up music, she would now be a qualified junior doctor.

‘My intention was always to become a doctor,’ she said ‘I specialized in neurology, and I found medicine a real challenge. ‘It was something that was going to stretch me, because I wasn’t just stuck in a research laboratory.’

‘I was in a hospital, and I got to see people at their most vulnerable. Ultimately, though, I wanted to try music.’

There is a touch of steel to Sandé, too, along with the strong work ethic that is a prerequisite for any modern pop star.  The singer concedes she was ‘headstrong’ as a child, and, in her teens, she declined a record deal after winning a Radio 1 talent contest, preferring to cut her musical teeth by writing hits for Cheryl Cole and Susan Boyle.

Her approach has won her the admiration of her peers. Jay-Z praised her ‘unique sound’, Rihanna asked her to write a song for her, and Dido, when I interviewed her recently, was quick to acknowledge a singer she sees as a kindred spirit, not least for the fact that Sandé, like Dido.

Even amidst the prying eyes of the paparazzi, she managed to get married to marine biologist Adam Gouraguine in a very private ceremony.

‘I think she’s brilliant,’ Dido told me. ‘It’s voices that resonate with me, and I love hers. She’s the most exciting female artist of the moment. She never gets boring, either, because I don’t know anything about her private life, which is great.’

Slim and healthy: A radiant looking Aretha Franklin attended the New York Knicks game last night at Madison Square GardensSandé herself is already looking ahead, with this live set previewing two songs from her forthcoming second album. The first, Enough, is a big, flowing piano ballad. The second, Pluto, looks more to the Massive Attack-style strings of her debut single Heaven. On the evidence of these, the stunning success of Our Version Of Events is no fluke.

‘You have a duty to be a positive role model, especially when some of your fans are young girls,’ she says. ‘You get 13- and 14-year-olds thinking they have to dress a certain way to get on.

But my inspirations were Aretha Franklin and Nina Simone. With them, the music always came first.’

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KolorBlind Spotlight: Yoko Ono … peace, love and KolorBlind!

I feel very honored to be writing about a living legend today. Yoko Ono has always been a representation of a legend to me. This woman is an artist, author, peace/political activist, feminist, philanthropist, wife, mother and so much more.

It is said that: “an apple does not fall far from the tree”, implying that great people aren’t just great by accident but are a product of greatness that already exist’ in their genes. This is so true of Yoko Ono (I feel like bowing everytime I write her name).

This legend was born to the great-granddaughter of Zenjiro Yasuda of the Yasuda banking family, and to father Yeisuke Ono, a banker and one-time classical pianist who was a descendant of an Emperor of Japan. Can you now trace where her greatness, strength and poise comes from? On top of that, her name (Yoko) means “ocean child”. The ocean is one element that cannot be traced, it flows freely, it’s gentle but yet forceful enough to destroy. I think it’s important to pick names carefully when we name our children. Names have such strength and power associated to them.

Although born in Japan, Yoko has been living in the US since 1935. This is longer than most of us have been alive. What I admire the most about this woman, is that while yet she was a foreigner she has made a huge impact on her generation and still has an impact on many generations. I am one who dislikes for immigrants to live in foreign countries as though they were slaves. Utilize the opportunity presented well and leave an impacting footprint before you leave.

From having the finest of education, to going through struggles of life, this woman has practically lived it all. She expressed her emotions through artwork that have been revered. Her appreciation for art has lead her to create music and author books. An example of her conceptual art includes her book of instructions called Grapefruit. First published in 1964, the book includes surreal, Zen-like instructions that are to be completed in the mind of the reader, for example: “Hide and seek Piece:

Hide until everybody goes home. Hide until everybody forgets about you. Hide until everybody dies.”

One of the things Yoko will forever be remembered for, is her marriage to legendary musician John Lennon (RIP) of the Beatles. From their passion for each other, to their passion for peace, politics and music…this is one couple that will not be forgotten anytime soon. Up until the fateful incident that took John’s life, he and Yoko led many peace/political protests and recorded great music together.

Their son Sean Ono Lennon (a replica of John) also a  singer, songwriter, musician, guitarist and actor carries on a lot of his late father’s work. Check out Sean and his projects by visiting his website www.Seanonolennon.com.

In remembrance of her late husband, Yoko founded the John Lennon Museum in Saitama, Japan in 2000 and in 2009, she created an exhibit called John Lennon: THE NEW YORK CITY YEARS for the NYC Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Annex. The exhibit uses music, photographs and personal items to depict Lennon’s life in New York. A portion of the cost of each ticket to the exhibition is donated to Spirit Foundation, a charitable foundation set up by Lennon and Ono.

Yoko OnoYoko’s career and accomplishments are too many to list. However, one of her recent projects was recently featured on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon where she and her son Sean were guests. This woman is a flagship KolorBlind queen and her body of work can only be admired…I doubt too many can rival her accomplishments.

Thank you for all you’ve done, all you continue to do and the legacy that will outlive you. Wishing you peace, health, and joy in everything you do. Xo

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading today’s KolorBlind Spotlight: Yoko Ono … peace, love and KolorBlind!