One night last October, Lianne La Havas' life changed on a dime. The 22-year-old London-born singer, songwriter, and guitarist had been asked to appear on the influential British music show Later… with Jools Holland (a rare invitation for an unknown artist), and she made sure to take advantage of her moment. Cutting a striking figure in a white pleated skirt and side-swept poof of hair, with a radiant smile spread across her face, La Havas performed "Age"—a playful tune about a dalliance with an older man—with effortless grace and charm. When the show aired, the reaction was instantaneous and unanimous: Lianne La Havas was on her way to becoming a star. "With her electric guitar strung high, and her beautiful, smoky, vibrato-rich croon of a voice enunciating every word, she seems to be confiding in you directly, with no filter in between—a strange (and rare) mix of fragility ... and impregnable, ensnaring confidence," raved the UK's Sunday Times about the performance.
Following La Havas' performance on Later…, her London club residency sold out in a few hours and she was tapped by Bon Iver's Justin Vernon, who had also appeared on the program that night, to open his band's North American tour in December 2011. She was nominated for the BBC's Sound of 2012—an annual poll of music critics and industry figures to find the most promising new musical talent (past winners include Adele and Jessie J).
The daughter of a Greek father and a Jamaican mother, La Havas fell in love with music at a young age and cites her parents' tastes as a huge influence. Her dad, who played accordion, piano, and guitar, favored jazz artists like Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker, while her mother loved female soul-R&B singers like Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, and Mary J. Blige. La Havas remembers wanting to sing herself at age seven after watching Lauryn Hill belt out a gospel tune in Sister Act 2. She enrolled in college to study art but dropped out to pursue a career in music after joining a circle of friends who wrote and recorded music while attending London's famed performing arts institution The BRIT School. One of those friends asked La Havas to accompany her at a gig and also introduced her to British singer Paloma Faith, with whom La Havas toured as a back-up singer. She also performed in bands, put her music up on MySpace, and found management, which led her to Hales and her future. Now La Havas is ready to take center stage herself and win over American audiences with the August 7 U.S. release of Is Your Love Big Enough? by Nonesuch Records.