Musician Kelsey Lu on Growing Up a Jehovah's Witness

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Kelsey is wearing a suit and shirt by Dolce & Gabbana, blouse by Erika Cavallini

The remarkable young jazz musician tells why her father is both her hero and her villain

“For me, a hero is someone you look up to and admire with intensity. Mine is my dad. He grew up in the American South and experienced everything that was happening there as a young black man. He was severely dyslexic and taught himself to read. Art became his calling and he built a career as a caricaturist and courtroom illustrator. One of my earliest memories is him taking me to the mall and setting up an easel and drawing portraits of people. Growing up, we didn’t have a glamorous life but he never wavered in supporting his family. At one point, though, he became a villain. My parents were strict Jehovah’s Witnesses and when I was 18, I realised it wasn’t for me and I didn’t believe in it anymore. I had to shut myself off and get away. It took me a long time to realise that he was afraid and I was angry.”

With a voice so nuanced it needs little other than a few notes from her cello as accompaniment, Kelsey Lu is a jazz singer at heart. Lu, as she prefers to be called, grew up in North Carolina where her Jehovah’s Witnesses parents strived to conceal the profanities of hip hop and MTV from their two daughters. After moving to New York, Lu recorded Churches, her debut EP. Its sound led to a collaboration with Grace Wales Bonner on the designer’s Chevalier de Saint-Georges-inspired show music, and a performance with Florence and the Machine. Now 27, Lu lives in a tree-house-like apartment in LA, where she listens to Alice Coltrane every day, and is recording her debut album.

Hair Christian Eberhard at Julian Watson Agency; Make-up Adrien Pinault at Management Artists using MAC Cosmetics; Photographic assistant Dani Bastidas; Styling assistants Rebecca Perlmutar, Samia Giobellina and Natalia Fuentes; Make-up assistant Manon Sabot; Post-production Labyrinth Photographic; Production Mini Title; Special thanks to Studio Rouchon Paris

This article originally appears in AnOther Magazine S/S17.