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How India.Arie became a Grammy darling

Stevie Wonder, John Mellencamp, and Motown all helped this soulful newcomer

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India.Arie
India.Arie: Jeff Slocomb / Retna

Last summer, India.Arie stopped by the Santa Monica headquarters of Grammy organizers NARAS, giving staffers there a chance to ”meet her and touch her,” in the words of her record company’s president, Kedar Massenburg. Apparently, the guitar-strumming neo-soulstress touched the right people: Last week, Arie came away with a stunning seven Grammy nominations, besting higher-profile newcomer Alicia Keys’ six nods, and coming in just under front-runner U2’s total of eight. Arie tells EW.com that even she was surprised by the large number of nominations, which include one for Album of the Year for ”Acoustic Soul.”

But Motown prez Massenburg says that visions of Grammys were dancing in his head from the moment he signed Arie. ”One of the things we did from the beginning with India is to make sure industry people saw her,” he says. ”Acoustic Soul” took nine months to reach platinum status, but it caught insiders’ attention early on when Motown publicized endorsements from veteran artists, most notably Stevie Wonder, who called her a ”gentle genius.” Wonder, a Motown artist for his entire career, first heard Arie’s album (and her tribute song to him, ”Wonderful”) in Massenburg’s office; the exec played it for him in hopes of exactly the kind of praise that resulted. ”If you’re approved amongst your peers, that’s half the battle,” Massenburg says.

Arie says that Wonder, Elton John, Patti LaBelle, and other artists who’ve praised her might have recognized her as an ”old soul” — a hip-hop-influenced 25-year-old who salutes Miles Davis, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and Robert Johnson by name on her album. ”I think they’re like, ‘Who’s this young girl singin’ like an old lady?”’ Arie says. ”I have a great reverence for music and musicians. I love Stevie Wonder and I hope he heard his influence in my music.”