Ascendant R&B star Andra Day living in the moment

Ellie Goulding (left) and Andra Day performing at the Grammy Awards in February.
Matt Sayles/Invision/AP
Ellie Goulding (left) and Andra Day performing at the Grammy Awards in February.

Andra Day has been invited to perform at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue so frequently in the last year that the rising star feels comfortable joking with its residents. “I actually told them I’m just going to make up a room and move in,” she says, laughing.

Such is the life of the gifted vocalist who, since the release of her superb, Grammy-nominated album “Cheers to the Fall” in August, has been ushered quickly into some high-profile gigs.

The San Diego-bred singer-songwriter was ubiquitous over the holidays, starring alongside Stevie Wonder in a heartwarming Apple television ad. Then Day, whose balance of classic and contemporary styles evokes forebears like Billie Holiday, Jill Scott, Dionne Warwick, and Amy Winehouse, soared on the Grammy telecast in an unlikely but winning pairing with Brit songbird Ellie Goulding.


Her latest trip to the White House — First Lady Michelle Obama is a big fan of Day’s rousing anthem “Rise Up” — found her sharing the stage with a star-studded ensemble paying tribute to Ray Charles, including powerhouses Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes and Yolanda Adams. She recently realized a dream performing with Sir Elton John at a campaign event for Hillary Clinton at Radio City Music Hall.

Get The Weekender in your inbox:
The Globe's top picks for what to see and do each weekend, in Boston and beyond.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

Throw in a sold-out headlining concert tour, which comes to the Sinclair on Sunday. Not too shabby for a gal discovered singing at the opening of a strip-mall clothing store — which is where Wonder’s wife, Kai, came upon Day, and brought her to his attention. In turn, Wonder hooked Day up with veteran producer Adrian Gurvitz, who, with assists from folks like Rafael Saadiq, Questlove, and the Dap Kings, helped Day make one of 2015’s most stunning debuts.

Fresh from vocal rest, the affable and animated Day — whose first name is short for Cassandra — chatted with the Globe by phone from a Southern tour stop.

Q. You’ve made multiple trips to the White House. Do you ever get used to that?

A. Pretty much no. [Laughs] I was walking around taking pictures and people were looking at me like “Haven’t you been here before?” And I’m like, yeah, so what? The thing is, I went in different periods. When you walk in the front of the White House, the pictures on the walls, they change out pretty frequently. They’re all very cool and historical, with pictures from the current term and past terms. The first time it was mostly the Obamas, the second time it was all Christmas-oriented, and then the last time it was all Black History Month-oriented, including a photo of Obama sitting on the bus where Rosa Parks sat. I don’t think you ever get tired of it. When you’re there, you realize you’re really connected to a deep and powerful history.


Q. How much impact would you say that the Apple holiday ad had for you? I would imagine that was your first exposure to a lot of people.

A. Yes. I get people today who say, “I first heard about you through the Stevie Wonder commercial.” The power of advertising in that way is incredible. But I love that the commercial struck people. I get people all the time who say, “I was in my kitchen and I heard it, and I thought what is this? Whose voice is that?” And it’s amazing that what was created that day really grabs people and made them feel so warm.

Q. The pairing of you and Ellie Goulding on the Grammys sounded odd on paper but obviously worked out beautifully. Were you nervous at all?

A. I wasn’t nervous about working with her. It was [Grammy producer] Ken [Ehrlich’s] brainchild. First of all, I was just grateful that he was like, “Hey, you’re going to perform on the Grammys.” We were happy to do the collaboration, but what we weren’t sure about was how the two songs were going to mesh. They’re different in tone, different keys, different time signatures, so we were like, how are we going to work this? But Greg Phillinganes is a brilliant musical director and composer. And he ended up mashing them up and sent us the music, and we gave him back our suggestions about how we wanted it to be more acoustic and how we’d like to see it flow, and we ended up with a such an interesting and unexpected piece of work. It ended up being really powerful and I am telling you, I could not have asked for a better partner than Ellie Goulding: Talent-wise, personality-wise, she was so lovely. We laughed most of the time, and I made a friend out of it.

Q. As with all new artists, years of work go into making it, but from a public standpoint you’ve gone from unknown to the Grammys in less than a year. Are you able to be present in these moments — meeting Elton John, performing at the Grammys — or is it a blur and you’re already thinking about your next album?


A. Can I tell you, Elton John told me about how he first heard about my song from Apple, and [famed DJ] Zane Lowe talked to him about the record — he went and listened to “Rise Up,” and he loved the song and bought the album. He kissed my hand and he said “You are the bomb,” and I almost fell out, like, what?! [Laughs] I’m in this moment. So I’m not looking to the next record right now. If I get creative ideas, I’ll make a note in my phone, but right now I’m not in a rush. I’m enjoying what we’re doing. I’m making a point to be present.

Interview was condensed and edited. Sarah Rodman can be reached at