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Local musician takes first trip to the Grammys

Thursday - 1/23/2014, 12:03pm  ET

Maysa600.jpg
Maysa Leaks, better known as Maysa, just received her first Grammy Award nomination. (Courtesy Maysa Leaks)

From Maryland to L.A.: Going to the Grammys

WTOP's Rachel Nania reports

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WASHINGTON - Maysa Leaks received the call of a lifetime on Friday, Dec. 6.

The Baltimore-based musician was throwing her 14-year-old son a birthday party when the phone rang. On the other end was Wendi Cherry, the executive director of The Recording Academy's D.C. Chapter.

Cherry was calling to tell Leaks, 47, that she had just been nominated for a Grammy at this year's 56th Grammy Awards, which takes place Jan. 26.

"It's hard to explain what I felt at that moment," says Leaks, who goes by her first name, Maysa, in the music industry.

"I didn't know whether she was playing or whether I was dreaming. I couldn't figure it out. And then I just started screaming."

Leaks's song "Quiet Fire," which is off of her tenth and latest album, "Blue Velvet," was nominated in the Best Traditional R&B Performance category.

Other nominated artists in that category include Fantasia, Gary Clark Jr., Gregory Porter and Ryan Shaw.

Stevie Wonder, London and Solo

Maysa attends the Soul Train Awards 2013 at the Orleans Arena on November 8, 2013 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Jason Kempin/Getty Images for BET)

Leaks, who describes her style of music as jazz-funk-R&B-soul, may be new to the list of Grammy nominees, but she is not new to the music industry. She has toured and trained with some of the world's best musicians for the last 20 years, including Stevie Wonder.

Her passion for music started at the young age of 6, and she nurtured her talent through school and into college, where she sang in the choir at Morgan State University.

"I just knew that [music] was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, and I knew I was going to do it," Leaks says.

An opportunity to break into the industry came about when Leaks was still in college: Stevie Wonder came into town for a Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration. At the time, he was looking for an alto background voice, and Leaks auditioned for the position.

She passed the audition, but still had a year left of school -- something she was not willing to abandon.

"I asked Stevie if I could come out the next year, after I finish school, because I wanted to give my parents the degree they had sacrificed for," she says

And Wonder said yes.

Leaks packed her bags and flew out to Los Angeles after graduation, where she sang with Wonder for about 10 months before moving on to her next experience.

A friend in Los Angeles let Leaks know about a London-based band that was looking for an American singer. Leaks auditioned over the phone, and the next thing she knew, she was shipping her belongings back to Baltimore and packing two suitcases for London at the age of 24.

After four years in London, Leaks decided to come back home to the states to launch her solo career, and since then, she has spent her time building her career in her hometown of Baltimore.

The Song That Sends Her Back to Los Angeles

While working on her latest album, Leaks decided she wanted to record a cover song. One day, Leaks was driving in the car when Nancy Wilson's version of "Quiet Fire" came on the radio.

"When I listened to the song, it kind of overwhelmed me. I was like, I'm going to try to remake that.'"

And remake it she did -- all the way to the red carpet.

In Leaks' nominated category, she says her biggest competition will most likely be Fantasia and Gregory Porter.

"They're really popular right now, you know? And they have a lot more television and radio exposure than I do," she says.

But Leaks says she's very excited to see and meet everybody at the event, which will include performances by Beyonce, Lorde, Taylor Swift and Paul McCartney, among others.

If there's one thing that rivals music at the Grammy Awards ceremony, it's fashion -- and Leaks says she has that covered.

She's wearing a dress from Baltimore designer Hyman and Hyman, who also made her dress for the 2013 Soul Train Music Awards.

"It's black with lace and a little more blingy. It's something I'm pretty excited about," she says.

Along with her dress, Leaks will be traveling with close family and friends, who plan to watch the awards in the hotel room and maybe even scope out the red carpet.

"Even if I don't win, the nomination is what I've always wanted. To me, I've already won. Whatever happens at this point will truly be icing on the cake," she says.

"It's something that's going to be in front of my name for the rest of my life and that's a dream come true, it really is."

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