Lelia is about to go on.
The houselights have dimmed, on this cold November night, inside Indre Studios in South Philly. The audience, about a hundred strong, settles expectantly into sofas and chairs in front of the stage, having filled up on the gumbo and crawfish dip and pralines that Lelia’s mother, Mary, fed them for supper. That was just the appetizer, though. Lelia’s the entrée.
This is the release party for Lelia’s first CD, and among the guests are all the luminaries of the local singer/songwriter scene. There’s singer Lizanne Knott and her husband, Grammy-winning engineer/producer Glenn Barratt, of MorningStar Recording Studios in Spring House. (Among his clients: Jill Scott, Vanessa Williams, Phil Roy, Patti LaBelle, Grover Washington Jr.) Indre Studios producer Mike Richelle is playing piano in Lelia’s band. Up-and-coming Yardley rocker Seth Kallen is on the scene with his band. So are a whole lot of friends and relations, including Lelia’s little brother Quinton, who’s only five and, in his miniature coat and tie, as squirmy as can be. The atmosphere’s more fam than glam.
At the mike, Lizanne Knott announces that Lelia is going to put Philadelphia on the musical map: “Here she is now, a bright shining star — Lelia Broussard!” From the back of the room, Lelia slinks toward the stage in a black spaghetti-strap dress and heels, singing “Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone.” Her mom looks on serenely, without a hint in her demeanor of the heavy lifting that has gone into getting to this point. For this, Mary Broussard sold a successful business. For this, she’s hired a life coach and a guitar teacher, bypassed the public school system, and hauled Lelia to open-mike nights across the Delaware Valley.
And it’s paid off. Things are falling into place for Lelia. WXPN’s Michaela Majoun, who has made Lelia her “personal mission,” is playing her songs on Women’s Music Hour, and sent them to the hit CBS show Joan of Arcadia, which featured one of them in December and has contracted for more. There are shows on the books at Old City’s Tin Angel and the Point in Bryn Mawr and Steel City in Phoenixville. Plans are afoot for Lelia to sing Gershwin at the Kimmel Center in May. She’s about to record a three-song Christmas CD as a gift for fans; then she’ll head into the studio again to lay down another CD, of new songs she’s written.
All of which is pretty impressive, considering that Lelia is 15.
Lelia (you say it, she explains, “like Lily-uh”) lives in a comfortable two-story house deep in Chester County’s horse country with Mary, who sold her bartering-collective business to raise more than $10,000 for the making of the CD, and little brother Quinton, and a golden retriever named Zoë who, we discover, as Lelia shows me through the house, has left a sizeable pile of poop in Quinton’s room. Lelia opens Quinton’s door, spies the pile, laughs a little, and closes the door. She isn’t fazed a bit. Lelia is hard to faze.