When Alice Tan Ridley’s debut album Never Lost My Way was released last Thursday (September 15), it was the culmination of a longtime dream for her. The R&B singer who got her start busking in New York City subways will celebrate with friends and fans at a record release party at the Highline Ballroom Saturday, Sept. 24.
Half of the ten songs on the album are original — written by Ridley and her friend Jay Stolar. “It’s all about stuff that we’ve been through already in the world. Like I used to see the older people in my neighborhood telling the younger people when they were doing something naughty, that ‘You’re better than that. Your momma taught you better,’” Ridley told AXS.com, while quoting from the fifth track — “Better Than That” — on the album.
While the five original songs on Never Lost My Way hold personal meaning for the singer, so do the ones she chose to cover: “Try A Little Tenderness” (most famously performed by Otis Redding at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967), “Love And Happiness” (Al Green), “I’ll Take You There” (The Staple Singers), and two versions of “At Last,” a signature song of legendary soul singer Etta James.
“At Last” has become one of the most requested songs when Ridley is performing. She sang it during her first appearance on the reality show “America’s Got Talent” in 2010, where she finished as a finalist. “‘At Last’ is a lovers’ song,” she noted. “It’s [about] the day they first ran into the love of their life.”
A Georgia native, Ridley moved to New York in 1971 and later supported her family for 20 years by busking in subway stations throughout the city. During one performance in the Times Square station on September 24, 2008, Ridley — who often invites people watching her perform to sing with her — did a spontaneous duet of the late Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” with Ayanna Irish, who was passing through the station on her way home. The women reunited onstage in February 2016, at Cafe Wha? in Greenwich Village for a Whitney Houston Tribute Show.
These days, Ridley mostly performs around the country with her nine-piece band, so her subway station appearances are less frequent. “When I’m not touring, I’m still out there giving the love,” she promised.
Singing underground has long been special for her. “Thousands and thousands of people would stand and spend two or three hours with me while I was doing my performance, and sing along. Usually, they were rushing to get home, but were out in the subway just enjoying themselves and getting to talk to other people next to them, and exchange numbers and get to be friends with people that they didn’t know,” she said. “One of my reasons for loving it is because I used to ride the train early in the morning — nobody said ‘Good morning’ or ‘Hello’ or anything. They just kept to themselves. So being in the subway and getting people to communicate with each other, that was big for me.”
Last year, the soulful singer launched a successful Kickstarter campaign to assist her in completing, releasing, and promoting Never Lost My Way. She easily hit her initial goal of $12,500, and is grateful that her daughter — actress Gabourey Sidibe, who starred in critically acclaimed 2009 movie “Precious” — suggested using the crowdsourcing site.
Although Ridley is thrilled to have realized her dream of releasing a studio album, she’s not resting on her accomplishments. “I don’t know what’s next for me. I want to see what this is gonna bring,” she said. “I will still be performing, I will be writing more songs, and thinking about my next album.”
Meanwhile, fans who want to help celebrate the launch of this album can come to her album release party on Saturday, September 24 at 8:00 p.m. (doors open at 6:00 p.m.) at the Highline Ballroom (431 West 16th Street). Ticket prices range from $20-$50 (the latter including a pre-show Meet & Greet option) and can be purchased here.