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Along with her late night debut on Seth Meyers as well as an upcoming feature on CBS This Morning Saturday and YouTube’s global development program, Ponder will also be joining Marcus Mumford on tour this fall.
Currently on tour, Ponder took a few minutes to speak with The Black Wall Street Times about her music and motivations leading up to her debut album’s September release.
Asked how she keeps her sanity and health while touring, she replied, “exercising, meditating, I’m over 40 so I’m definitely not trying to go out and party every night and I’m mindful of restoring my energy.”
Some singers use hot tea, lemon water, or homemade concoctions to repair and restore their vocals, but not Ponder. She credits God above for her voice and its ability to sustain her performance after soulful performance Ponder says, “everyday I wake up and my voice shows up. I thank God for what it does.”
Born in Rochester, New York, Ponder remembers living in the hood and wanting more for herself and her surroundings, “but now as I look back, I’m keenly aware of everything I gained from growing up in that community. How beautiful it really was, the people, the families that I’ll always remember. I’m thankful for the experiences I had.”
Afraid of becoming a starving artist while also knowing in the back of her mind she had talent, Ponder worked as a public defender eight years before finally pursuing a career in music. “I decided if I was on my death bed, I would be so disappointed if I didn’t try.”
Like many of us who grew up as preacher’s kids in the 90s, “secular music” wasn’t allowed in the Ponder home. For her specifically, you’d have to also add Care Bears and Fresh Prince of Bel-Air to the list of “worldly” viewing that time. She remembers it with a laugh today, “everything was ‘the devil trying to get you’ and the more they told me about these forbidden things the more I wanted to find out what they were about.”
Thankfully around the age of 16, her parents “relaxed a bit.” Ponder credits Columbia Clearing House as her first plug which introduced her to many of the musical influences she continues to carry with her on stages to this day.
Back when people listened to music on CD’s, Ponder used their popular service, “you could get like 10 records for a penny. I was ordering CD’s on top of CD’s. I ordered Lauryn Hill, Da Brat, Aretha Franklin, Alanis Morissette, Nina Simone, Gladys Knight, I was always obsessed with the blues too like Big Mama Thornton. I probably owe them people $2,000 in pennies.”
While she respects her OG’s, today Ponder sees herself collaborating with the likes of Portishead and upstate New York’s own Griselda, “I know that may sound weird to people but I just feel their vibe, I love those artists.”
Ponder wants everyone’s CROWN to fit atop their hair, however they choose to wear it.
When speaking of her music video “Some of Us are Brave,” Ponder affirmed the women wore their hair however they freely chose to. “I didn’t tell those women to do anything except come as themselves. I didn’t care if they had a weave down their butt, had braids, or whatever. I think the beauty of being a Black woman is our ability to change our hair and come up with creative styles.”
She continued, “I’m more interested in people being who they feel like they want to be on that day because I believe in freedom of expression and I believe first and foremost doing whatever makes you happy, and not letting anyone define you but you.”
Having lived in both Benin and Boston, Ponder has experiences that she continues to hold dearly. When speaking of her time in the west African country, Ponder states, “it was the first time I didn’t think about my race because it was just the norm. Whereas in America you may walk into a store or boardroom and you wonder if they’re following you. The cloak of racism is all over your experiences in America and in Africa it was so freeing to just be a human being walking through a country.”
“I’m all for people being who they want to be” – Danielle Ponder
Not one to shy away from allowing real life to be reflected in her music, Ponder confidently records the music she feels at the time. “There are songs on my album about how I feel at the moment, about breakups, about doubt as an artist. However, there was a moment when all my music was uplifting and positive because I felt that’s what I had to do but Nina Simone is someone who first gave me the permission to talk about everything.”
Ponder explains Simone’s impact, “she could make a song like ‘Why (The King of Love is Dead)’ but then make a song like ‘My Man’s Gone Now.’ For me, I want to be okay with being three-dimensional and expressing the parts of me that are serious, political, empowering, and the parts of me that are insecure, afraid or lonely because that’s just life and I’m grateful for every aspect of it.”
“My goal is to create music that makes people feel less alone.” – Danielle Ponder
Ponder explains how humanity and empathy can be gained through music, “I think we as humans pretend we are okay, but if we all said what our mess was, then we’d all actually feel okay. Being okay doesn’t mean everything’s perfect, your relationship is perfect or you eat perfectly. Being okay means you’re a human being navigating multiple things. When I’m on stage, I talk about personal things and experiences because I want people to see someone giving permission to be okay even if those things are not amazing all the time.”
A star in her own right, Ponder mentions one of her most memorable performances to date. “Opening up for Leon Bridges, we got a standing ovation, people kept saying how amazing the performance was and we opened for an artist I loved,” she stated. “I got off stage and I cried like ‘this is happening and people are receiving it.’”
The album title and song were inspired by the book “All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men: But Some of Us Are Brave,” says Ponder. “I first fell in love with the title, I immediately felt seen. The book is a collection of Black women writers pushing against invisibility, speaking loud and clear and telling our unique story. To me, this song was just a moment to pause and pay homage to Black women. The album is named that because that’s where I get my biggest inspirations. My biggest cheerleaders are my sisters, my mother, Black women. And I think bravery is what I’ve needed to become a full-time artist.’’