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Everything you need to know about Andra Day

Andra Day
(Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)

The three-time Grammy Award nominee got her start at the San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts

Andra Day had two 2016 Grammy Award nominations and another in 2018 to her credit before being cast in the lead role in “The United States vs. Billie Holiday,” the provocative new film by Oscar-nominated director Lee Daniels.

Day discusses the film and Holiday’s legacy in an in-depth interview in today’s Union-Tribune. For those catching up with this rising star, here’s a look at her artistic evolution.

Andra Day

Born: Cassandra Monique “Andra” Batie (Day is her stage name) in Edmonds, Wash.

Age: 36

SoCal migration: Day was 3 when she moved to San Diego with her family, including her sister and two brothers.

First steps: She began studying dance at age 5 and sang in the choir at First United Methodist Church in Chula Vista.

First concert: NSYNC, when she was a teenager.

Early influences: At 12, Day became a fan of the music of Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Dinah Washington. “Hearing those voices, I was like: ‘Wow! I want to do stuff like this, stuff with that impact’,” she said in a February 2016 Union-Tribune interview.

School days: She attended the San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts for six years and graduated in 2003. “I don’t remember her not excelling,” says SDSCPA vice principal Roxann Hatfield, who was Day’s biology teacher. “She was fabulous the first time she was one of the leads in a school play. You just sat back, and thought: ‘Wow!’ ”

Singing in the streets: “When we would walk home from school, Andra would make up songs and sing things by Brandy, Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston,” recalls Jessica Mays, Day’s close friend and former classmate. “She also listened to older music that our grandparents were listening to. And she was made for the stage. She always had this thing that made you want to watch her.”

Day jobs: Before pursuing music full time in Los Angeles, Day had about two dozen day jobs. “I’d clean apartments that people had moved out of, and that was really gross,” she said in an October 2016 Union-Tribune interview. “I worked at Hollywood Video, at Rubio’s, and all the way up to being the accounts manager at American Specialty Health. And I had a Union-Tribune paper route in Point Loma when I was 19. It started at midnight and ended at 6 a.m.”

Online: Day first gained national attention when she began posting videos on YouTube of her mostly acoustic versions of songs by Eminem, Muse, Florence + The Machine, Amy Winehouse, Jessie J and The Notorious B.I.G.

First break: A YouTube video of Day singing in a strip mall caught the attention of Stevie Wonder’s then-wife, Kai Millard Morris, in 2010 and she had Wonder listen to it. Impressed, Wonder phoned Day to suggest they collaborate. “I was living with my mom in a tiny apartment in Chula Vista, near Third and H Street behind the 7-Eleven,” Day recalled in her February 2016 Union-Tribune interview. “It was crazy to be on the phone with Stevie Wonder. I felt like a meteor hit our apartment!”

And then: A year and a half later, Wonder introduced Day to veteran producer Adrian Gurvitz, who helmed her acclaimed 2015 Warner Bros. debut album, “Cheers to the Fall.” Wonder plays harmonica on a song on the album. The same year saw Wonder team with Day to duet on “Someday at Christmas” for an Apple TV commercial.

Common and Andra Day
Common and Andra Day perform “Stand Up for Something,” a song from the film “Marshall,” during the telecast of the 90th Academy Awards in 2018.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

First kudos: In 2016, Day earned a Grammy Award nomination for Best R&B Album, while “Rise Up” — the inspirational standout song from her album — earned a Best R&B Song nomination. In 2018, she and Common shared a Grammy nomination for Best Song Written for Visual Media for their duet on “Stand Up for Something.” It was featured in the soundtrack to “Marshall,” the biopic about Thurgood Marshall, the first Black U.S. Supreme Court justice.

Drink up: As part of “Share a Cup,” McDonald’s and Coca-Cola’s joint sweepstakes, Day’s image and lyrics from “Rise Up” appeared on approximately 50 million McDonalds soft drink cups.

Performances of note: In 2016, Day performed “Rise Up” during the Grammy Awards telecast and at the White House and the Democratic National Convention. In 2018, Day and Common performed “Stand Up for Something” as part of the Academy Awards telecast. The same year saw Day join Lauryn Hill in Cleveland to induct the late Nina Simone into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. At the 2019 Grammy Awards, Day paid tribute to the late Aretha Franklin by singing "(You Make Me Feel) Like a Natural Woman” with Fantasia and Yolanda Adams.

Next album: The soundtrack to “The United States vs. Billie Holiday,” which features Day singing an array of Holiday classics, was released Friday by Warner Bros. It also features the original song “Tigress and Tweed,” a Holiday-flavored collaboration by Day and Raphael Saadiq. Day’s second solo album is now nearing completion.

Latest kudos: On Feb. 3, Day’s titular performance in “The United States vs. Billie Holiday” earned her a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Motion Picture — Drama. She and Saadiq also earned a Best Original Song — Motion Picture nomination for “Tigress and Tweed.”

What’s next: “After my next solo album comes out, I want to move into the sphere of producing, acting, co-writing and co-directing films with other people who have a desire to tell the truth about Black people and tell marginalized people’s stories,” Day told the Union-Tribune. “Because these narratives have been suppressed, or changed, and it’s necessary for our survival as a culture to know the truth.”


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