Maysa Leak refused to get her hopes up on Grammy nomination night last month. Besides, it was already a celebration of a different kind; she threw her son 14-year-old Jazz a birthday party.
But at around 9 p.m., as she cleaned the kitchen and Jazz played video games with his friends, she received the call that she had waited 22 years to receive.
On Dec. 6, Wendi Cherry, the executive director of The Recording Academy's D.C. Chapter, called Maysa to tell her she had earned her first Grammy nomination ever. “Quiet Fire,” a song from last year’s “Blue Velvet Soul,” will compete on Sunday night in the “Best Traditional R&B Performance” category against songs by Fantasia, Gregory Porter, Ryan Shaw and Gary Clark Jr.
And with the nomination, Maysa, 47, of Gwynn Oak, fulfilled a dream the singer was unsure she’d ever reach. Before boarding a plane for Los Angeles at BWI-Thurgood Marshall Airport later today, the Morgan State alumna whose career began as a backup singer for Stevie Wonder discussed her plans for the ceremony and what’s in store.
So tell me about your initial reaction to the nomination.
I just screamed at the top of my lungs. All I could do was scream. I was so excited and happy, and then the kids came into the kitchen like, “What’s wrong? What’s wrong?” And I said, “I just got nominated for a Grammy.” Then they went off. It was a fun night. Dec. 6. I’ll never forget it.
Now that you’ve had time to process the accomplishment, what does the nomination mean to you?
It just means that somebody is recognizing that I’ve been trying to work my tail off. I’m trying to do everything I can to put out the best, highest quality music I can do, you know? It’s just nice that somebody is saying, “You’re doing a good job.” That’s what it feels like. And just the significance of it is that I’ve just wanted it since I was 14 years old.
A lot of people have shunned [the Grammys] and pooh-poohed it and all that stuff for years because “This wasn’t right,” or they thought it was all a game and political. And I’m just saying, for me, it’s just a great thing. I used to watch my heroes get Grammy nominations and win Grammys. It’s a really big deal for me. I wish everybody in the world could feel like this and have this experience. I’m not the only person that’s worked hard. A lot of my friends, we’ve all been underdogs in the industry. I share this with all of those artists. They’ve been struggling just like I have.
Did you think this last album would be the one that finally led to this?
My music has always had some critical positive reaction. It’s always been good. But this one, critics and people alike are just like, “Oh my God, this is it. This is the baddest record you’ve done so far.” They kept me like that the whole time. I just knew something was on. My mom and dad up in heaven, I knew they had something to do with this. The love never stopped. They’re still showing me. I can feel it.
What are your plans for Sunday?
Just to be on time for everything. [Laughs] My ultimate goal is to be on time for everything. I’m not going to be late for anything. I don’t want to miss anything. … I’m leaving today. My first time going. Saturday is the Nominees Reception. They give you a medal and a certificate and all of that stuff. Then there are some parties and all of that going on. It’s going to be a busy weekend. I’m just excited to be a person a part of the whole thing.
Who’s making the trip with you?
My son. I have quite a few people going. One of my best friends out there in California, Kim Brewer, who gave me the audition with Stevie Wonder years ago. She’s going to be there. And Stevie is performing with Daft Punk. It’s really surreal. It’s really an amazing thing. I have my other best friend, Wanda, her sister and four other friends going. I have a lot of people going. Not everybody can go to the show but they’re just going up there to experience [it].
What will you be wearing?
I have a dress made by the lady who made my Soul Train [Awards] dress — Hyman and Hyman Designers, here in Baltimore. It’s black lace and I forget the other fabric. But it’s going to be partially laced. It’s going to be pretty. It’s not a lot the same like the one before but it’s kind of in the same vein. I just didn’t want to switch up too fast. She was like, “You should wear a lot of color. You should cut your hair short.” Uh-uh. I’m not doing all of that. I’m scared of all that stuff. [Laughs] I’m just going to be comfortable and take some comfy shoes, like they say, and just be a part of the whole whirlwind. People who were nominated last year told me, “Maysa, it’s going to be incredible. The treatment is incredible.”
A nomination was all you wanted, but what if you win?
That’s an added bonus, honey. I already won as far as I’m concerned. The nomination is No. 1 to me. This is all I ever wanted. I never went past a nomination, as far as dreaming. Having that attached to my name the rest of my life — “Grammy nominated” — and now that helps me in the marketplace, and hopefully people take more notice and give you more respect. That’s what it’s all about. So hopefully some great things will come out of it. If I don’t bring home the trophy, that’s one thing. But I’ve got that [nomination] and they can’t take that from me. Ever, ever, ever.
What’s your plan for the rest of the year?
Whatever comes my way I’m ready for it. One of my main goals is to record my first Christmas album. I haven’t done that yet. And I’m going to own it so I’m not going to go through a record company. I’m going to own it. I have a live album I produced, too, and I like it because it’s residual income that is going all toward my son’s college and my retirement. Every time I make a record that I produce on my own, those moneys go to that kind of thing. I’m excited to build that up.
(Interview has been condensed and edited.)
TUNE IN: The 56th Grammy Awards air live from Los Angeles on Sunday at 8 p.m. on CBS.