Andra Day: The Inspiring Rise of a Multi-Talented Star

Andra Day has made a significant impact in both the music and film industries with her soulful voice and compelling performances. She first gained widespread recognition with her debut album, Cheers to the Fall, released in 2015. The album, which features the hit single “Rise Up,” earned her two Grammy nominations and showcased her powerful vocal ability and emotional depth.

“Rise Up” became an anthem of resilience and hope, further solidifying her place in the music world. Day’s unique sound, blending jazz, soul and R&B influences, has captivated audiences and critics alike, establishing her as a distinctive and influential voice in contemporary music.

Outside of her musical success, Day has also made a remarkable transition into acting. Her portrayal of legendary jazz singer Billie Holiday in the 2021 film The United States vs. Billie Holiday earned her critical acclaim and several prestigious awards, including a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Motion Picture (Drama). Day’s performance was lauded for its authenticity and emotional intensity, showcasing her versatility and talent as an actress. Her commitment to the role, which involved rigorous preparation and transformation, demonstrated her dedication to her craft. As both a singer and actress, Day continues to break barriers and inspire with her artistic achievements and powerful storytelling.

EBONY spoke to the singer, actress and Capricorn about how she warms up to perform, her skin routine, her future and current projects and how her acting role has been a way for her to heal. She has the hope they’ll help heal folks as well.

Andra Day
Image: M Santos.

EBONY: As both a singer and an actress, how do you balance and draw inspiration from these different creative roles in your career?

Andra Day: Balancing music and acting has always been challenging for me. When I dive into an acting role, I’m fully immersed, and the same goes for my music. It’s tough to do both simultaneously, but they do intersect and inspire each other. Every role I’ve taken has profoundly impacted me and transformed my abilities. For instance, working on The Deliverance and playing Ebony transformed me significantly. What I’m drawing from is just that season of my life, that period.

I find that the characters I portray affect my life deeply. I can’t help but draw inspiration from them because they became part of my experience during that time. I don’t separate my life from my roles; I integrate them. The emotions and experiences I go through, whether on set or off, inform my music and my life. I try to embrace these experiences fully and let them shape my work and personal growth. The way I live and feel during these periods naturally influences my creativity and output.

As an artist known for your powerful storytelling through music, what do you feel sets your song “Where Do We Go” apart from your previous works, both musically and thematically?

I approached this project by focusing on singing in a more relaxed manner, letting the story and emotion take center stage instead of filling every space with my voice. This approach is more thoughtful and pensive. For example, in “Where Do We Go,” the song is raw and unfiltered. It represents my struggle with taking the high road and making the right decisions, even when it’s difficult. Sometimes you just want to throw a tantrum, and that’s what this song captures for me.

“Where Do We Go” is about those moments when you question why you have to walk away from something you want the most. It’s a childlike outburst, expressing raw emotions and the frustration of needing closure but feeling like the door is still slightly open. In the studio, I needed to release that emotion, and this song became an outlet for those intense feelings. It’s a very real, unguarded expression of not wanting to take the high road and just wanting to let it all out.

Andra Day
Image: M Santos.

How do you prepare for a vocal performance?

I like to try to drink tea and stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water. I also do vocal exercises and pray a lot because nerves can really affect my performance. I’ve noticed that nervousness impacts my vocal cords even more now, causing shakiness that affects how they come together. So, I’m often praying to get over the mental hurdle of doubt and anxiety.

Physically, I focus on doing warm-ups and taking care of my voice. For instance, yesterday, I realized I needed to adjust my routine based on how I was feeling. I’ve also worked with Rob Stevenson, an amazing vocal coach. He introduced me to vocal straws, which are great for doing exercises that are like weightlifting for your vocal cords, such as blowing into a water bottle. I even purchased his course because his system is so effective. Consistency can be a challenge, but I try my best to stick with these practices.

Your skin looks fantastic! Would you mind sharing your skincare routine and the products you use to achieve such great results?

I try to use clean and organic products, but I also prioritize what works best for me. I believe in a mix of natural ingredients and science-backed products. One of my hero products is EltaMD, a moisturizer sunscreen with niacinamide and zinc oxide. I’ve been using it for years because it helps with acne, balances my skin tone, reduces redness and keeps my skin soft and supple. If I had to keep only one product in my skincare routine, it would be EltaMD.

Another favorite is organic vitamin E oil. It’s fantastic for breakouts and fine lines. Applying concentrated vitamin E oil on breakouts can prevent scarring and heal the skin. My makeup artist, Porsche Cooper, even tried it and confirmed its effectiveness. For a more diluted option, I use organic raw vitamin E oil. I also use an eye cream from La Prairie, and I love Tracy Hudson’s moisturizer sunscreen that contains squalene. My routine includes hyaluronic acid and gentle retinols at night since my skin is sensitive. I also use hypochlorous acid, which kills bacteria and keeps my skin clean. Overall, I focus on keeping my skin hydrated with a combination of clean, organic and effective products.

What impact do you hope the film Exhibiting Forgiveness will have on audiences, particularly regarding the themes of forgiveness and redemption?

Oh my God, it was such an honor. I told people that I said yes to the movie before I even read the script because I saw Titus Kaphar’s name on it. I’m such a huge fan of his work, especially his painting, which I’ve admired for years. When I saw his name on the script, I was like, “Titus Kaphar? Wait, did they get the name wrong?” But it was indeed him, making his directorial debut and writing it too. So, I immediately said yes and hoped the script was good since I was already committed.

The cast was incredible, with André Holland and Aunjanue Ellis being bucket list actors for me. I had worked with Aunjanue before on The Deliverance, so it was great to collaborate again. Even though it was a supportive role, I loved the movie and the script so much that I told them I would have been happy just being a janitor on set to witness it all. Working with André was amazing, and Titus Kaphar was an incredible director. The cast, including John Jelks, is fantastic, and we all believed deeply in the story’s human power. Some days were hard, but we became like a family, truly believing in the project. It was a beautiful experience.

What I love about the movie is its exploration of forgiveness, which can be incredibly challenging. I truly believe that to heal, you have to forgive, and part of that process involves seeing your parents as human beings who are not perfect and who have made mistakes. They were products of their own upbringing, often shaped by even harder circumstances. There’s something powerful about recognizing this. When I grew up and got to know my mom, I realized that despite my frustrations, she was a superhero for dealing with everything she had to. Understanding our parents as human beings helps us heal and gain perspective, even if the trauma they caused still matters. This understanding allows us to move forward without wanting to repeat the same mistakes.

What can we expect from you and your future projects?

I’m a slow burn because I’m such a perfectionist and easily get distracted. This album, also known as Cassandra (Charity), represents a really vulnerable moment for me, being truthful with myself and others. It features a different sound that I’m really looking forward to sharing. I’m also thrilled about the release of Exhibiting Forgiveness. Even if your issues aren’t the same as the Father-Son dynamic in the story, the themes of forgiveness and healing are universally relatable. Also, I’m very excited about The Deliverance, which we recently finished and is expected to release this year.

Updated: June 3, 2024 — 12:03 pm