It was a miracle. That’s how Grammy Award-winning musician Lani Hall describes it. Hall, who remembers singing songs from the radio in the backseat of her dad’s car at two years old, absorbing them, learning them, would later begin to sing them in her bedroom. They were mostly jazz standards at the time. And doing so was a transforming experience. While she never thought she would become a professional singer, she couldn’t get enough music. But at the same time, Hall kept it all a secret. Until one day. When she was in her late teens, a friend who worked at a nightclub came by her house unexpectedly and heard her singing through her bedroom door. From that chance encounter, a career blossomed. And today that career includes Hall’s forthcoming tender album, Seasons of Lovewhich is set to release on April 22—her first solo LP in nearly 25 years.
“I was singing in my room,” Hall says. “And a friend of mine knocked on the door and I opened it and there she was. She said, ‘Who’s in there with you?’”
At first, Hall didn’t know what her friend meant. But then her friend said she’d heard singing. She began looking in Hall’s closet, around the room. Who was singing? Hall said it was a record—but that wasn’t it, her friend knew. It was a person’s voice. Then she realized: it was Hall the whole time.
“And I was caught!” Hall says.
Hall admitted it was her. Her friend’s gears started to turn. Then, as Hall sipped drinks one night that her friend passed to her in the nightclub where she worked, she heard her name over the speakers. Her friend practically lifted Hall out of her seat at the bar and got her on stage. That night, Hall sang in public for the first time. The song? “Universal Soldier,” which is the one her friend heard her sing in the bedroom. After she was done, Hall was thrilled internally but externally, she didn’t know how to react. So, as they were walking back to the bar to chide her compatriot, someone intervened.
“As I approached,” she says, “this man came in and said, ‘Excuse me, I own the coffee shop down the street and I would like you to sing for the next two weekends and I’ll pay you for it. ‘ And my friend who set this up looked at him and said, ‘She’ll do it!’ And that’s how it happened.”
Truly, it’s like a movie scene. Like divine intervention. So, Hall sang at the coffee shop for the next two weekends. But the owner wanted her to stay on an additional two, which she obliged. That’s when her life really changed. That’s when the now-legendary artist Sérgio Mendes entered her life. His band at the time, Brasil ’65, was breaking up and the musicians were all headed home. But Mendes wanted to give a new group one last shot.
“He’d heard about me on the street and came to the club between shows and he just watched me from the entrance of the door and after I finished, he came up to me and said, ‘I’m putting a group together and I want you to be the lead singer.’ I said, ‘You’ll have to ask my father,’” Hall recalls.
At the time, Hall was 19 years old and lived at home with her family. So, Mendes came over to her apartment and talked to her parents. By then, her father knew how much she loved to sing but he said if anything—anything—doesn’t feel right, she should hop on a plane and come home. But she never needed to.
Hall, who sang with Brasil ’66 for years, including on the band’s huge hit, “Mas Que Nada,” also met another musician along her way who would buoy her life: legendary jazz musician and record label owner Herb Alpert. When Brasil ’66 was just starting out, they got an audition with Alpert’s A&M Records. Prior, Hall had seen Alpert on television one day when she cut school. She was watching a teenage dance show and there was Alpert, playing his trumpet. Hall remembers thinking to herself that she’d never seen anybody so beautiful. So, when she found out Mendes’ group was to audition for A&M, she knew she’d meet Alpert. A&M signed Brasil ’66 and Alpert, who was coming off a string of hits, was to record them.
“He asked to drive me home that night from the rehearsal, ‘Hall says. “I said no. I wasn’t going to do that. But we just spent a lot of time together. We got us to open his show and we were on the road together.”
Today, Hall and Albert are married. She talks about his generosity, intuition, and kindness. Hall says she’d never been around anyone so kind. It was Hall’s spirit and talent combined with the support she got from Alpert and A&M that led to her greatest successes, including a Grammy Award and the chance to perform the theme song for the latest James Bond film—a high honor, indeed. Later, though, Alpert asked Hall to step away from Brasil ’66. He was homebound and she was traveling 11 months out of the year. It wasn’t an easy transition, Hall says, but it was one she chose for love.
“I took the chance and I followed love,” she says today. “I see it as me following love’s path.”
Another thing Hall—who has released two-dozen albums to date—loves is language, especially foreign languages. She learned to sing in both Spanish and (Brazilian) Portuguese. It’s a tactic she continues to employ to this day. Several songs on her forthcoming LP appear in languages other than English. For her new record, Hall began with one song: “Seasons Of Love” from the musical RENT. Alpert had put together a demo of it during the pandemic and Hall, who had taken to teaching herself how to cook and improvise in the kitchen, went into his studio one day. Alpert wanted to play it for her and then asked if she’d sing it. That turned into the idea for an EP, which later bloomed into the full LP, now out in April, with standouts like the delicate “Here Comes the Sun” and joyous “Happy Woman.”
“It’s a love album,” Hall says.
As 2022 continues to unfold, Alpert and Hall have 55 spring and summer tour dates planned. But it remains up in the air if they will come to fruition given the state of COVID-19 spikes and variants and the like. Not to mention, the state of the country in which every human right seems to be debated. These discourage Hall and many artists, but she continues to persevere both in life and with music. Some may wonder why. But for Hall it’s simple. It’s the same reason that inspired her to sing in the back of her dad’s car at two years old.
“The way it makes me feel,” Hall says.
Photo courtesy Grand Stand HQ