India. Arie made one of the most notable debuts in music history with her 2001 album Acoustic Soul. A critical and commercial hit, the album sold 1.6 million copies in its first year of release and earned the musician seven Grammy Award nominations. Although India. Arie did not walk away with any Grammy Awards that year, the publicity catapulted her into the front ranks of contemporary female R&B performers, a roster that included Jill Scott, Alicia Keys, Lauryn Hill, and Macy Gray. After touring with Sade, India. Arie returned to the studio to make her follow-up album to Acoustic Soul. “The thought crossed my mind about not wanting to alienate my fan base,” India. Arie told Billboard in September of 2002 about her second release, Voyage to India, “but I don’t know what would alienate them or bring them in, so I decided not to think about it. I made a conscious decision when I was recording Acoustic Soul to—and this is one of my mantras—follow the music and let the chips fall where they may… It would have been way too much to try to live up to some expectations [with the second album] when I don’t even know what they are.” India. Arie did walk away with Grammy Awards in 2003, one for Best Urban/Alternative Performance for “Little Things” and another for Best R&B Album for Voyage to India.
India Arie Simpson was born on October 3, 1975, in Denver, Colorado. Her first name was chosen in honor of the birthday of Indian leader Mahatma Mohandas Gandhi, which coincided with her expected arrival date. Her middle name, meaning “lion” in Hebrew, was chosen simply because it blended well with her first and last names. Her parents’ roots were in Detroit, where her father, Ralph Simpson, was a standout basketball player at Pershing High School. Simpson spent a year at Michigan State University before getting a hardship exemption to enter the draft of the American Basketball Association as a 19-year-old. Drafted by the Denver Rockets (later the Denver Nuggets), he became one of the now-defunct league’s top scorers. Simpson also played with the National Basketball Association’s Detroit Pistons, Philadelphia Seventy-Sixers, and New Jersey Nets before ending his athletic career in 1980.
India. Arie’s mother, Joyce Simpson, also grew up in Detroit, where she pursued a career as a singer during her teenage years. Her talent was promising enough that the young singer was offered a spot in the group Martha and the Vandellas and, later on, a contract of her own on Motown Records. She decided to turn down both offers; after marrying, she started a career as a fashion designer and worked under the one-name title “Simpson.” Both parents were deeply interested in all kinds of music. In addition to listening to albums by family friend Stevie Wonder, music by Donny Hathaway, Roberta Flack, and James Taylor were also favorites in the Simpson house. As India. Arie described the eclecticism of her family’s record collection in a September of 2002 profile in the Washington Post, “Soul music isn’t a color or a place. It doesn’t necessarily come from Memphis or wherever. It just takes an innate
Born India Arie Simpson on October 3, 1975, in Denver, CO; daughter of Ralph (a minister and former professional basketball player) and Joyce Simpson. Education: Studied at Savannah College of Art and Design, GA.
Performed on Lilith Fair tour, 1998; released platinum-selling album, Acoustic Soul, 2001; released second album, Voyage to India, 2002.
Awards: Black Entertainment Television Award, Best Female R&B Artist, 2002; Grammy Awards, Best Urban/Alternative Performance for “Little Things,” Best R&B Album for Voyage to India, 2003.
sincerity and ability to evoke emotion or convey emotion. I used to cry over James Taylor when I was eight, even though I barely understood what he was talking about.”
The Simpsons were divorced in the mid-1980s, and Joyce Simpson moved to Atlanta with India. Arie and her two younger siblings, brother J’On and sister Ka-msai. India. Arie attended high school in Atlanta but returned to Denver to complete her secondary education. She returned to Georgia after receiving a scholarship to study metal and jewelry design and art history at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). Although she had played the recorder and other wind instruments in high school, it was not until she got to college that she picked up a guitar and began writing songs. Moving back to Atlanta after dropping out of SCAD, India. Arie helped to found an artists’ collective, Groovement, which included an independent record label, Earthseed. A compilation recorded by Groovement’s members was released in 1998 and included India. Arie’s “India’s Song,” a meditation of the African American experience in the South. The album led to an offer for India. Arie to play some dates on the Lilith Fair concert tour in the summer of 1998; by the time the tour was over, India. Arie had generated interest from several record companies eager to sign the musician.
India. Arie was careful to sort through the offers that came her way in the wake of her Lilith Fair appearances. “I was never searching for a deal,” she explained in a July of 2001 Jet profile. “I knew that I wanted as many people as possible to hear my music, but I made a decision early not to compromise myself or my music…. Then I met Motown President Kedar Massenburg, and he told me he’d never make me compromise my artistic integrity.” In 1998 India. Arie signed with Motown Records, the same label that her mother had almost signed with 30 years before. Mas-senburg lived up to his promise not to rush India. Arie into recording her debut album, Acoustic Soul, and the process of putting it together took almost two years. “[The songs] were all written on acoustic guitar, and translating them to full album arrangements took a long time,” India. Arie explained to John Duffy of the Baltimore City Paper in April of 2001. “And it had to be done right…. I am very happy with the way it turned out. I learned so much about myself and what I could do. I learned many lessons that, had I learned them later in my career, would have been more difficult.” While she put the finishing touches on her debut album, India. Arie contributed the song “In My Head” to the soundtrack of the Spike Lee film Bamboozled.
Released in March of 2001, Acoustic Soul won both critical and popular acclaim. In addition to earning platinum certification for its sales of 1.6 million copies in the year after its release, the album earned India. Arie seven Grammy Award nominations, including Best New Artist, Album of the Year, and Record and Song of the Year for the track “Video.” Although she did not take home any of the awards, “Video” became an anthem for many listeners for its positive message to women about their physical appearance. “We’ve been playing a lot of these radio-station events, and every time there are a hundred twelve-to-fifteen-year-old girls up front singing the line ‘Because I am a queen’ right along with me,” India. Arie told the Baltimore City Paper. “If young girls listen to that and it gives them confidence to be themselves, that just blows me away.”
Tall and muscular herself, India. Arie avoided presenting an overtly sexual image to the public. “The way I look doesn’t lend itself to [exploitation],” she joked in a February of 2002 interview with Entertainment Weekly. “Because when I take off my clothes, I look like I’m doing an ad for a treadmill.” When she appeared in an advertisement for the Gap clothing chain, however, some of her fans accused her of selling out. India. Arie took the criticism in stride, explaining in a letter to her fans posted on the bulletin board of her official website in December of 2001, “I did it for the recognition, to get my name out to the masses; I did it to make the point that we don’t have to dress like Lil’ Kim to be beautiful…. To look at Vogue and see Britney Spears on the front cover and my strong African self on the back is a candle in the darkness. My desire to have as many people hear my words and voice sometimes puts me in catch-22 situations.”
India. Arie returned to the recording studio to record another album of positive-themed, acoustic-tinged R&B tracks for Voyage to India, released in September of 2002. “I do experiment with lots of different genres. In making music, I don’t think of genre like, ‘I want to do this, because I’m going to use that country music sound; I’m going to use that hip-hop sound; I’m going to use that acoustic [sound],” she told Talia Soghomonian of NYRock.com in May of 2002, while she completed the album. “It’s just making music… It’s mind and spirit. You know, we’re humans.” Like its predecessor, Voyage to India was both a critical and commercial success and earned gold record certification—for sales over a half-million copies—in just the first month of its release, as well as Grammy Awards for Best Urban/Alternative Performance for “Little Things” and Best R&B Album in 2003.
Acoustic Soul, Motown, 2001.
(Contributor) Bamboozled (soundtrack), Polygram, 2000.
Voyage to India, Polygram, 2002.
Baltimore City Paper, April 4–10, 2001.
Billboard, September 7, 2002.
Entertainment Weekly, February 8, 2002, p. 16; September 27, 2002, p. 84.
Jet, July 16, 2001, p. 57.
Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, September 24, 2002, p. K7193.
Q, April 2001.
Rocky Mountain News, November 16, 2002.
Washington Post, September 24, 2002, p. C1.
“Gold & Platinum,” Recording Industry Association of America, http://www.riaa.com/Gold-Search_Results.cfm?start=1 (November 21, 2002).
“India. Arie,” Pop Matters, http://www.popmatters.com/music/concerts/i/indiA-arie-020814.shtml (August 14, 2002).
India. Arie Official Website, http://boards.indiaarie.com/viewthread.asp?forum=AMB_AP284230708&id=24 (March 3, 2003).
“Interview with India. Arie,” NYRock.com, http://www.nyrock.com/interviews/2002/india_int.asp (March 3, 2003).
India.Arie’s sound has been described as feel good and uplifting. It has been called Neo-soul and R&B. And even though she has only recorded one album to date, critics are calling her music the work of an artist. In 2001 India.Arie took the music world by storm with her debut album, Acoustic Soul, and no matter how she was described or in what category her music was placed in, she seemed unstoppable.
Arie remembereds singing as early as one years old. “We sing at church and at home, at Christmas,” she told Ebony. Her mother, Marie, now known only as Simpson, was almost one of early Motown’s singing acts, so the music is in her blood. She was born in Denver to Simpson and former NBA star Ralph Simpson.
In 1988 she and her mother moved to Atlanta where she turned to the music in her past to deal with the difficulties of being an adolescent. “While I was growing up, I dressed differently. I liked different music. I looked different,” she explained in Ebony. But the teasing did not force Arie to change; it only made her stronger and more expressive which is the key to her music. She expressed herself musically as a child, but focused on singing songs that already existed. She appreciated singers and songwriters like Stevie Wonder and Donnie Hathaway so much that she didn’t take her own music seriously. “I didn’t write songs; I just sang, and that wasn’t enough for me,” she said on her website, www.indiaarie.com. After high school, Arie moved away from music and explored another creative direction by enrolling in jewelry making classes at the Savannah College of Arts and Design after graduation. Music, however, wouldn’t stay out of her life for long.
In 1995 Arie learned to play the guitar and began writing her own music. “I jumped on it right away and I was out playing my first two songs within a month.” She had taken up several different instruments during her middle and high school years and always sang in the school choir, but Arie found her true musical muse in the guitar. She first played her own original music at small venues, including coffeehouses, just to have an audience hear it. The songs Arie created were about her life experiences and the lessons in courage she had learned along the way. To reach a larger audience, she eventually formed an independent label, Groovement/
At a Glance…
Born India Simpson on October 3, 1975, in Denver, CO; daughter of Marie Simpson, (fashion designer) and Ralph Simpson, (minister and former NBA player). Education: Savannah College of Arts and Design, studied jewelry making.
Awards: Grammy Nominations—Video, Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best R&B Song, 2002; Acoustic Soul, Album of the Year, Best R&B Album, 2002; Best New Artist and Best Female R&B Vocal Performance.
Addresses; Record company— Motown Records, 825 Eighth Ave., 29th floor, New York. NY 10019. Website —www.Indiaarrie.com
Earthseed. She released a compilation record that featured several new artists and earned her a spot at the 1998 Lilith Fair concerts in St. Louise and Nashville.
During that time, Arie caught the attention of Motown executive, Kedar Messenberg. He was so impressed with her music and style that he offered Arie a recording contract that would not require any of the musical or image changes that artist are often required to adhere to. “With Kedar I felt I could express myself the way I wanted to,” she said to Ebony. He allowed Arie to record and reach the public without compromising her style or integrity.
A two-year process that produced one of 2001 most critically acclaimed releases is what emerged from their deal. The debut album, Acoustic Soul, mixed the experiences of Arie’s life in friendly melodies over folk, jazz and R&B elements in the music. It also featured the artist on her acoustic guitar. Arie wrote or co-wrote most of the songs on the album. The release reached platinum status by 2002 selling more than one million units. The effort was so powerful that it earned Arie a spot as the opening act on the Sade Tour in 2001. Arie had completed the transition from coffee house artist to star by playing stadiums that housed more than 20,000 listeners.
Arie mentioned on her website that she simply wanted her music to be heard. Her first single, Video, became the positive affirmation that was heard around America. She quietly gained momentum as one of the few artists celebrating black beauty and loving oneself. She appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show with other artists of her caliber where Oprah personally thanked her for making Video. Acoustic Soul featured many other must-hear songs such as Brown Skin, Promises, Ready for Love, and Beautiful. Each song highlighted her writing skills and sultry alto voice. A review from People Weekly praised Arie for remembering the blues half of R&B music at a time when most artists are focusing on the beats and rhythms.
Arie liked her music being classified as feel good music and considered herself in good company. She was trying to bring a spiritual energy to her work. “My album is inspired by the power of the words and knowing that the things you say are a motivational force,” she explained in Jet. “The more you say something, the more it creates that energy around you … Speak words of beauty and you will be there.”
Because of the inspiration she received from great musical artists that came before her and the support she received from her family, Arie included several passages on her album to honor these people. She mentioned artists as varied as Sam Cooke, John Coltrane, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Karen Carpenter. Calling on the energy of past greats apparently worked because her release received another distinction that pleased the artist; the most Grammy nominations of any African American artist in 2002. She received seven nominations in total that included Album of the Year, Best Song of the Year and Best New Artist. Although she lost in all of the categories, Arie was honored by the nominations. She even attributed the nominations with giving her album a second wind that pushed sales over the platinum mark.
Fame also came with her many nominations and busy debut year. Arie considered the recognition something to get used to. She was admittedly a moody person who had been determined not to let the music business change her, “But now I meet a lot of people and I have to learn how to still communicate with people, open-heartedly, no matter what kind of mood I’m in,” she told Jet. “That has been a real challenge.” Arie expressed her ultimate feelings about music best on her website. “I think music has the ability to heal, the ability to destroy, to teach,” she said. “.… It just goes. It’s like pure energy that lives forever.” India.Arie’s music promises to raise the bar for feel-good music and appeal to both fans and critics alike.
Ebony, October 2001; March 2002.
Essence, September 2001.
Entertainment Weekly, March 30, 2001; February 8, 2002.
Interview, March 2002.
Jet, July 16, 2001; January 28, 2002.
Newsweek, January 2, 2002.
People Weekly, April 9, 2001; February 25, 2002.