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. Addresses: Record company--Motown Records, 1755 Broadway, 7th Floor, New York, NY 10019, website: http://www.motown.com. Website--India.Arie Official Website: http://www.indiaarie.com.
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 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 Kamsai. 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. Massenburg 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 NY Rock.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.
by Timothy Borden
Performed on Lilith Fair tour, 1998; released platinum-selling album, Acoustic Soul, 2001; released second album, Voyage to India, 2002.
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.
- Selected discography
- 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," NY Rock.com, http://www.nyrock.com/interviews/2002/india_int.asp (March 3, 2003).