From the eye-catching sequined outfits displayed in the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture to the vocal prowess of her Grammy-winning chart-topper, “How Can I Ease The Pain,” Fischer has many moments in her career that can bring you to a reminiscent halt. Now sharing her gift with the world, Fischer returns to Toronto for her fourth show at Koerner Hall alongside Grammy-winning jazz and Gullah group Ranky Tanky.
Bearing the title of the world's most in-demand background vocalist is a notably earned position. That zest and zeal for singing are from deep down in Fischer's soul. It was brought to the forefront while walking to school with her mom when she was 5. "We were walking down the street; life is good. I looked at the ground and saw a white piece of folded paper. I picked it up, and though I couldn't read, I knew they were words. So I took it into my class, talked to my teacher, and said, 'I wrote a song for the class. Can I sing this song for the class?’ She said sure and proceeded to look at me like I was crazy (laughs). I started singing, and I wouldn't stop. She had to stop me (laughs). That moment was the aha moment, the 'this is what I want to do forever—amen,’ " Fischer giggles.
If you watch any of Fischer's performances online, you'll notice that it's a celebration of music, art, and creativity. Her presentation and showmanship are exquisite. Sometimes barefoot and always one with the audience's energy, her shows exude a whole other level of spirituality. While the entire musical elevation is from Fischer, she learned some of the components along the way. And she credits that to her friend and former boss, the late Mr. Luther Vandross. "I must have been in my twenties, blooming, still awkward. I was still so focused on the music that I wasn't quite sure about the presentation. But, I knew I could study, I knew I could listen, I knew how to be a sponge, and Luther was such a good teacher showing us how to blend with each other and how he wanted the colours to blend.”
“It was beautiful musical information. But the other side that I never had was the presentation. Things have to look a particular way. The makeup and hair have to be a particular way. It’s the same thing my grandma used to say, ‘if you’re going to church, don’t walk into church looking any old kind of way.’ I don’t want the presentation to seem like a shallow thing, but it is a beautiful way to show that you care about how people view you and what they might expect from you. So I looked at the presentation from a deeper level because Luther cared about it so much,” says Fischer.
Fischer has been on this musical path for forty years plus. Her incredible journey is laid out in the Oscar-winning 20 Feet from Stardom. If you receive one thing from Fischer’s story, it’s that music is a spiritual expedition. It’s incredible how it overtakes our senses and transports us through time. When I asked Fischer what music evokes for her, her response was otherworldly.
“I like to think that it gives me a glimpse of what eternity feels like. It goes beyond your present, but you’re also in a different space that seems endless until it ends. So when you share that with the audience and tap into the memories of emotion that music evokes, it ignites the heart and spirit in a way that I’ve not seen anything else do. It’s like there’s an invisible movie going on in your spirit, and it’s not a 90-minute or two-hour movie—it is an eternity. And it is touching beyond our knowledge. For me, it’s a sacred space,” says Fischer.
Fischer has worked with some of the world’s best artists and has crossed over into many musical genres, including but not limited to pop, jazz, soul, rock and classical. She learned quite a few lessons along the way, but one has stuck with her during her musical exploration. “I think that all music for me comes emotionally from this cradle of the need to make sound and be heard and share. There are stories from so many beautiful cultures, and to me, it all comes back to the cradle of Africa.”
“Seeing the lines, journeys and stories of all people is beautiful. I think rhythm is its own melody. When you hear the beat of the drum or someone clapping, there are melodies within the beats and spaces and silence. Everything is waiting to be shared and discovered. And for me, that is like playing in a sandbox. So I’m always keeping my ear and heart open,” Fischer says with a smile.
Fischer’s affection and pursuit of music are innate. Like many, she found her calling at a tender age. She was lucky enough to find that feeling and gift and open up a world of possibilities for herself. Now and forever, the name Lisa Fischer will be synonymous with legendary vocals in the music industry. There’s a quote on Fischer’s website in her bio that states, “... performing with JC Mallard and Grand Baton ignited Lisa’s flexibility and freedom of expression, awakening her lifelong desire to make music that heals but still rocks the house.” Asking her if she felt that the latter had been accomplished, she replies, “I feel completely awakened and electric right now.”
“I’m so grateful to JC and Grand Baton, the band and my manager Linda Goldstein.” She continues. “They all kind of inspired me not to worry and just be yourself. Linda taught me to get rid of all the things people thought I was and wanted me to be. They want you to be 30 and a size six. They want you to be whatever you are not in the moment because when they look back at those old images, they’re beautifully and emotionally attached to them. But for some people, it’s difficult to allow a person to grow, to get older, to change, to morph into the person they are meant to be in the present moment. She really invited me to unchain myself from that. It was beautiful to be released in that way so I could just focus on the messages. What am I supposed to sing? How am I supposed to sing it? How am I supposed to connect to an audience? It brings you to a different space. Live is a whole other animal. You can’t stop and punch in during a live show, you know! (Laughs).
You can catch Lisa Fischer and Ranky Tanky at Koerner Hall on Thursday, December 1, 2022, at 8 pm.