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Celeste talks soul-singing greats as she embarks on her first U.S. tour

The 24-year-old rising star's voice is part Amy Winehouse, part Macy Gray. 

Celeste will perform at Baby's All Right on

Celeste will perform at Baby's All Right on Thursday.  Photo Credit: Sacks

At Celeste’s first-ever U.S. concert in Los Angeles, the rising Britain-based singer looked almost shy between songs, giggling throughout crowd interactions and even looking at her shoes on occasion.

But once the music starts, her voice takes center stage. It’s that voice, part Amy Winehouse, part Macy Gray, that has caught the attention of tastemakers throughout the U.K. With just a handful of songs to her name, Radio 1, Annie Mac and even Sir Elton John are paying attention. Now, for the first time, she’s touring America (not her first time in the States, though — she was born in Los Angeles to a Jamaican father and British mother), with the LA gig followed by multiple shows at South by Southwest, all leading up to her New York City debut on Thursday.

We recently caught up with Celeste, 24, to talk about her songwriting, the shadow of soul-singing greats from the U.K. and her voice.

When did you first know that your voice was something special?

When I was a kid, around 10 or 11, adults would say that I had a pretty good voice — "for a kid." It wasn’t something I really took notice of, because everyone as a kid wants to be a pop star or something like that. It wasn’t until I was 16 that I was really thinking about what I wanted to do, and that was one of the things I felt I was good at. It just came naturally, and I started rehearsing with my friends — not with a real plan, but just doing it because we enjoyed it.

What songwriting obsessions do you find yourself returning to time and again?

I’m definitely obsessed with the moon. The moon, the sun and the stars are always really important to me. When I was younger, I found this bracelet on the side of the street, and it had this gold sun on it, with a smiley face, a gold moon and a gold star. And for some reason, that’s always stuck in my head. And my mom’s always been interested in the powers of the universe, tarot reading, things like that.

As a soulful singer with a big voice from the U.K., you grow up in the shadows of artists like Amy Winehouse and Adele. Is that tough? Intimidating?

Those people are really inspiring, particularly Amy Winehouse and her storytelling. I think as well, at the moment, there’s a lot of women making music with me; I’m just happy to be one of those people. And I’m really proud of the women around me doing it. I don’t feel intimidated by it — I feel empowered by it.

You’re of a generation of musicians that recorded first and made names for themselves before doing a lot of touring. What’s been your relationship with performing live?

When I was 16, my friends and I would play around. And the town I grew up in, Brighton, there was a quite a big gigging scene at the time. So, we’d go put on shows, and I felt confident about getting in front of people. But from that point, I didn’t really play any shows until the end of last year when I did a residency, a month’s worth of shows in London. … I worked out how I wanted to hold myself on stage, the person I wanted people to see me as when I was on stage, really worked that out.

Celeste performs at 8 p.m. on Thursday at Baby’s All Right, 146 Broadway, Williamsburg, babysallright.com, FREE.

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