In 2011, leaving the grounds of Jazz Fest in New Orleans, I first saw Leyla McCalla on Sauvage Street playing Bach Cello Suite #1 accompanied by two black children that I first believed to be her own but were in fact students from the New Orleans Strings Project. I could not resist taking a photo of such a charming scene. A few weeks later, Tim Duffy, friend and champion of impoverished blues artists from the Piedmont region, on vacation in New Orleans with his family, found a still largely unknown Leyla playing on Royal Street another Bach piece, the Sarabande from Suite #3 . He also fell under her spell and invited her to work with his North Carolina-based Music Maker Relief Foundation which also encourages young musicians as part of its Next Generation program. Taj Mahal and the Carolina Chocolate Drops would soon count themselves among McCalla’s supporters. CCD, preparing to record its second Nonesuch album, “Leaving Eden”, invited her to rehearse and record with them in Nashville.
A native New Yorker, McCalla, a multi-instrumentalist, has studied cello since she was a child. Born to Haitian emigrant parents, she spent two years in Ghana as a teenager.