Manhattan’s McIntosh House set the stage for Toyota Music’s “Quintessential Night In New York,” and vocals from Grammy-nominated artist Ledisi and Roc Nation signee Victory Boyd set the tone.
The exclusive dining and musical event, hosted by Bevy Smith, was held on Friday, Jan. 26. Movers and shakers in the entertainment industry such as political commentator Angela Rye and actor Tituss Burgess were in attendance, while social activists like Deray McKesson and #MeToo founder Tarana Burke were also treated to a night of music, libations and a mouth-watering five-course meal prepared by chef Danielle Saunders. Additionally, the company gifted $10,000 to the Harlem School of the Arts in order to help empower future Grammy-nominees.
Boyd, 23, whose debut EP It’s A New Dawn dropped in 2017, treated fans to acoustic renditions of Billie Holiday’s “God Bless The Child,” Stevie Wonder’s “Overjoyed,” and an original song titled “Don’t You Ever.” According to Boyd, her style is mostly jazz-influenced, and that she’s thrilled to be part of the Roc Nation family.
Ledisi, a 12-time Grammy nominee, wowed the crowd with her stunning vocal performances of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come,” “I Blame You” from her 2014 album The Truth, and her Grammy-nominated song “All The Way.” Thanks to her acclaimed album Let Love Rule, the New Orleans native is up for three awards on Music’s Biggest Night, which she calls “beautiful.”
“The first time [I was nominated] was a surprise, I was just shocked and happy and I didn't care if I won or lost,” she said. “I’m the same now, but more so now, I do wanna win something, so it would be great! We'll see what happens, but it's beautiful to be nominated.”
Through the automotive company’s music initiative, Toyota seeks to connect with audiences by lending their hand in the discovery of new music and emerging artists, as evidenced by not only this event, but also by the Broccoli City Music Festival. Mia Phillips, Toyota’s National Manager of Brand, Multicultural + Crossline Marketing Strategy, says that the company has always been ahead of the curve as it pertains to multicultural focus.
“We have, for over 20 years, had specific agencies dedicated to the African-American, Asian and Hispanic markets,” she explained. “I don't think it's been a challenge for us to resonate with the markets, but the challenge is to break through the noise and the clutter, and to get each one of those groups to notice that we are speaking and doing things in the community.”
Phillips and Toyota are genuine and passionate about the importance of music to connect others. Bringing newer artists such as Victory Boyd into the spotlight, while also showcasing seasoned professionals like Ledisi, aligns with their notion that music is powerful enough to reach all people.
“We share the consumer passion for music. We understand that it's a universal language, that it connects people together, some of your deepest emotional connections and memories are all tied to music,” she continued. “That's really our sweet spot, we have tried to enable consumers to learn more about new and emerging artists to help bring them to the mainstream. In the same token, we certainly have appreciation for those artists who have been around and have been successful in their craft. I think the mixture of those two fabulous artists [Victory Boyd and Ledisi] is a recipe for success here tonight.”
Ledisi also spoke about the importance of introducing people to different genres via her music. Her 2017 LP was a slight departure from what we’re used to from the R&B songbird, however, it still sat in the pocket of the genre.
“What I like about genre-bending is that I get a whole new audience,” she said. “I have a new audience now, and I still have my audience from a long time ago, so it's like I'm in the middle introducing everybody. I think it's important that the youth understand where their music comes from… they're reinventing something that's already been done most of the time, sometimes it's something that's really fresh. Trap music to me, I love it, I love some of it. So, I took the trap beat and did "High," and to me, I'm in two categories that are completely different from each other—celebrating a song that's modern and another one that's very old school, traditional R&B. That's lit, and it works for me.”
“Music’s Biggest Night” feels especially different in 2018. Rap mainstays Kendrick Lamar and JAY-Z are up for the Album Of The Year honor, while minority musicians such as Bruno Mars, SZA and Childish Gambino also nabbed a handful of nominations. While it appears that the celebration of culture in America is under attack by our current Administration, speaking up and celebrating our differences through different mediums, now more than ever, is incredibly imperative.
“I love what's happening now. We’re speaking up, we're there at the marches, we're there singing the songs, like it was in the 60s and 70s,” Ledisi said. “It's like a movie that you've seen and we're in it. I don't want that movie to play again, but it is, and it's necessary for it to play again.”
“This country is a multicultural country, and it has been from the beginning,” Phillips said. “So, to celebrate our differences—not trying to ignore them, not trying to assume that everyone is the same, but to actually say ‘yes, we are in some ways different, and that's okay!’—is a beautiful thing.”