Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Lianne La Havas: 'The Golden Girl Of British Music'


If you're open to possibilities and you're brave enough to take risks, good things can happen. Of course, it also helps if you're as talented as 23-year-old Lianne La Havas. One critic called the singer-songwriter the golden girl of British music. Another wondered whether she could be the next Adele. In this encore presentation, NPR's Elizabeth Blair has a profile.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: Lianne La Havas was pretty much unknown until she appeared on a popular TV show in Britain called "Later with Jools Holland." Just her singing and playing guitar.


LIANNE LA HAVAS: (Singing) Why do I love him? He don't love back. When I call his name he turns his back. The weather is growing cold and I want him back again.

BLAIR: Time seemed to stand still, wrote one critic, of Lianne La Havas' performance. There were much more established artists on the music show that day, but Alison Howe, the producer, says Lianne La Havas was the standout.

ALISON HOWE: She was perfect. That short amount of time that she performed that song, two and half minutes or so, it was just her space and she held her own.


LA HAVAS: (Singing) Not a coincidence he left me because my older man was ready to love me like the woman that I am.

BLAIR: The song is called "Age," and Lianne La Havas says it's about one relationship ending and another one, with a much older man, beginning.

LA HAVAS: I met an older man just after this guy had dumped me.

BLAIR: And one night that older man introduced her to an older singer.


ELLA FITZGERALD: (Singing) Out on the plains, down near Santa Fe.

LA HAVAS: A song called "Cow Cow Boogie" by Ella Fitzgerald with the Ink Spots. And the rhythm of it is that (hums), that kind of thing.


FITZGERALD: (Singing) A most peculiar cowboy song. It was a ditty, he learned in the city, coma ta iyi, coma ta yippee yi ay.

BLAIR: And with that rhythm - and her own romantic predicament in mind - La Havas had a new song.


LA HAVAS: (Singing) So is it such a problem if he's old? As long as he does whatever he is told. I'm glad that it's just my heart that he stole, and left my dignity alone.

BLAIR: The song made an impression during that TV debut, and more and more critics started writing about Lianne La Havas. But she is hardly an overnight sensation. Even though she's only 23, she did plenty of open mike nights at pubs, sang back-up for lead singers, and worked on her songs. She grew up in London. Her father is an amateur jazz musician. Both of her parents are bus drivers. When her parents divorced, she went to live with her grandmother. She started singing when she was seven. At school, Lianne La Havas says her teachers encouraged her.

LA HAVAS: It got to point I was having singing lessons. But then I wasn't able to afford them and then my head teacher said she'd pay for the lessons just so I could continue having them. She said you can't not sing.


LA HAVAS: (Singing) Found myself in a second, I found myself in a secondhand guitar. Never thought it would happen, but I found myself in a secondhand guitar.

BLAIR: That secondhand guitar Lianne La Havas sings about is named Miss Connie, after her grandmother.


LA HAVAS: (Singing) Is your love big enough for what's to come?

BLAIR: La Havas is crazy about the guitar. When she was learning to play, she discovered not only inspiration, but instruction on YouTube. She came across the late jazz guitarist Emily Remler.


LA HAVAS: There was a piece she would play called "Red Blouse Bossa Nova." And I just loved the tenderness with which she was playing the chords and the way her hands looked.


BLAIR: The video was part of an instructional series that Emily Remler made on how to play advanced jazz guitar.

EMILY REMLER: Your other three fingers down, your pinky remains constant on the fifth fret.

LA HAVAS: I learned chords from watching her, for example, but I just also just did what felt right to me.

BLAIR: And sometimes that means Lianne La Havas veers away from tender strumming towards what she calls a dirty sound.


LA HAVAS: (Singing) Waste all your time writing love songs but you don't love me...

BLAIR: Remember that younger man who dumped Lianne La Havas? This song "Forget" is about him.


LA HAVAS: (Singing) So, pack away every verse and every rhyme, forget all the words that let you break my heart, forget that I'm the person tearing you apart.

BLAIR: The past couple of years have been very good for Lianne La Havas. Stevie Wonder left her a voicemail message singing one of her songs. Prince invited her to jam with him. She was nominated for a Mercury Prize - that's the U.K.'s version of the Grammys. And many of her concerts have been selling out. As for that comparison with Adele, Alison Howe, producer of "Later with Jools Holland," says their styles are very different but they do share one important quality: authenticity.

HOWE: They have great voices. They have a unique style that's unique to them. They're not being someone else; they're being themselves. They're just natural singers and songwriters.

BLAIR: And in the case of Lianne La Havas, Alison Howe believes her skills will only continue to grow. Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.


LA HAVAS: (Singing) 'Cause I know you, I can't reach you...

MARTIN: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Elizabeth Blair is a Peabody Award-winning senior producer/reporter on the Arts Desk of NPR News.
KUER is listener-supported public radio. Support this work by making a donation today.