Like Andrae Crouch whose music similarly drew large secular audiences, Nesby’s music combines pop and R&B with traditional gospel forms. This, and her appearances in musical theatre productions and in film have heightened her popularity not only among gospel audiences but also within secular culture.
Ann Nesby was born in Joliet, Illinois in 1958 to devout Christian parents both of whom sang gospel music. Her father, a church minister, had his own gospel quartet band and her mother, strongly influenced by the strong vocal range of Mahalia Jackson, gave her daughter regular voice lessons even before her third birthday. Little Ann made her first musical impression at the age of four at the Mt. Zion Baptist Church, making a debut solo performance, to rapturous applause from an elated audience.
In her early teens, Ann developed a leaning towards secular music but was soon dissuaded by her father. Her musical career lay largely dormant for the remainder of her teenage years and during this time she and her family moved to Rockford Illinois following her high school graduation. At sixteen she bore a child out of wedlock and three years later entered into a marriage which was later to prove unsuccessful.
Following the break-up of her marriage, Nesby sought to expand her music and received vocal lessons from the legendary gospel icon Reverend James Cleveland and in 1984 sang backup for Patti LaBelle who later recorded some of Nesby’s earlier works. In 1988 the aspiring Ann Nesby visited her sister Shirley Marie Graham, then a member of the popular Sounds of Blackness choir ensemble in Minneapolis. She was asked to stand-in at their Christmas musical by the choir’s musical director, Gary Hines and from then on, never looked back. Her musical career accelerated, gaining her critical acclaim as the choir’s lead vocalist, attracting secular audiences on a musical platform based on classical gospel brilliantly interwoven with R&B by producers Terry Lewis and Jimmy Jam. Ann led Sounds of Blackness to two Grammy Awards in 1991 and 1993 with the albums Evolution of Gospel and A Soulful Celebration.
In 1996 Ann turned her energies towards a solo career and released her first solo album, I’m Here for You, produced by Terry Lewis and Jimmy Jam. Although this album featured for sixty weeks in the R & B best-selling lists and was subsequently Worship Songs Download followed by a single, Nesby’s initial solo career did not quite make the impact she had originally hoped and she soon turned her creative energies to other fields. In 1997 she featured in the stage productions Diary of a Mad Black Woman, I Know I’ve Been Changed and T.D Jake’s gospel production Cover Girls.
Following successful stage appearances, Nesby resumed her singing career, and in 2002 released the album Put It on Paper which she co-produced with second husband Timothy Lee on the Time Child record label. Her strong leaning towards R&B was clearly evidenced in the album in which she featured in a duet with the legendary Al Green, gaining her a much deserved Grammy nomination in 2003 in the R&B category. Also in 2003, Nesby and her husband followed up with a popular R&B album hit, Make Me Better, a powerful and alluring combination of traditional soul, hip-hop and gospel, which won critical praise in the tabloids; much appreciated and lauded by an increasing fan base of gospel and secular audiences. The album gained Nesby a Grammy nomination in 2004. The following year, she was again nominated for another Grammy award for her contribution in The Fighting Temptations soundtrack which featured the legendary gospel diva Shirley Caesar.