Before releasing her debut album I’m Here for You in 1996, Ann Nesby sang lead for Sounds of Blackness in the late 80s while penning lyrics for artists like Patti LaBelle and Gladys Knight. She’d go on to acting, working alongside Cuba Gooding Jr., Beyonce, Tyler Perry, and more, but most recently, Clifton Powell in the “Bound and Gagged” stage play.
In June 2014, Nesby released a new album called Living My Life and it was fitting for her legendary tenure she credits her faithfulness to.
Throughout her 25+ year career, what’s set Nesby apart from others is her ability to reach her listeners inside and outside of the church, and her willpower to stay true to herself and her beliefs. In the interview below, the Grammy voting member, Grammy award-winning, superstar singer and astounding actress says she attributes the adeptness to becoming aware of her gift at an early age.
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GOSPEL GOODIES: Tell us about the “Bound and Gagged” stage play…
ANN NESBY: It pertains to domestic violence. I did the show during Domestic Violence Month and it was really a good release for women. It’s about women getting free from the bondage of domestic violence and mental cruelty and children being abused in bad situations. I was excited to have an opportunity to be a part of this, coming from a domestic violence situation in my first marriage.
I actually didn’t know you were in an abusive relationship. How’d you find your way out of it?
My career allowed me to move on and my parents were very, very helpful in me moving on. Sometimes we get caught up and become ashamed of it all and worry – especially when you have children – not knowing when and how to step away. But you just have to trust God and have good family to back you up.
Definitely. So, what was your role in the play?
My role was the mother-in-law of Principal Tatum. The mother-in-law was actually in a bad relationship so her voice and her hands were tied in not being able to really encourage the young daughter-in-law. It was one of those things where in reality, people are suffering in silence for years and years and it takes the younger generation to come along for them to be freed.
You’ve had a very extensive career. How do you juggle both R&B and gospel?
At the beginning of my career, I never allowed the industry to pigeon-hole me. Coming from a group like Sounds of Blackness, it allowed me a greater platform. I grew up in Illinois during the Motown era near Chicago. And, being a Christian, with both my parents as ministers, then working with the James Cleveland Gospel Music Workshop of America… my message is definitely gospel. But I am a firm believer that one has to be true to yourself. We go to church every Sunday and we have music for certain events, but we have to live our lives when we come home from church. We are not singing hymns when we are setting the mood in our relationships because we live in the world. We may not be of the world, but there’s music that relates to other situations.
I’m a firm believer that music is a gift from God. I’m just an instrument being used by God and God’s grace that He anoints us with is a grace for someone else. We should not just keep it within the four walls. If you can allow the music to capture the ears of new fans, and then give a positive and uplifting message, then it will convey your overall message from your point of view. My point of view is from a biblical sense because that’s who I am. Music from the heart reaches the heart and music calms the savage beast. So we have to understand our gifts, know what our calling is and walk accordingly.
What’s been the hardest part of your career?
The hardest part for me and probably anyone going in to the music business would be the beginning. And there are times along the way and in between projects that are hard as well because [you’re still trying to establish yourself].
What would you say kept you grounded throughout that time?
I absolutely credit God and my prayer life. Knowing who you are in God and what your calling is and what your gift is for definitely keeps you grounded.
Do you have advice for people looking to make a career out of singing gospel?
I’m an artist that believes in networking and helping young artists along so I always try to include and find young artists that are very conscientious about being in the business, are dedicated and have a good attitude about themselves, even apart from the talent. I know that a good attitude is better desired even more so than the person that has more talent. So I encourage young people to really understand their attitude as they’re going up the ladder and to maintain good relationships because the industry is so small. You never know who you’re working with or their position.
I also tell them that it is important to have your business in order because this industry is 80 percent business and 20 percent music. It’s really important to understand what you want and be focused on that. Don’t spread yourself too thin, get some legal advice, don’t sign anything that you don’t understand, and trust God to direct your path.
Before actually stepping into the business, did you ever imagine your success to be at the height it is and has been throughout your career?
I always had a dream to have success in the industry and it was always my desire to be in the industry. I knew what I wanted to do and I worked towards that goal. I prayed and I trusted God and I followed his lead. I always knew that if I was faithful, God would keep his promise to me. I did my work. I worked in church. I was faithful there in the choir, with the youth department. The word of God says we have to seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all other things will be added unto you. So it was my point to be able to do what I felt I was called to do. In doing so, I think my faithfulness allowed different doors to open.