As a student at John F. Kennedy High
School, Naydja sang in competitions and
talent shows and brought home many
trophies as a young songbird.
It was at one of these performances at
a visiting school that she was noticed by
the legendary St. Augustine High School
bandleader and community pillar, Edwin
Hampton. He invited the talented JFK
High School student back to perform in
the spring concert.
“I jumped at that chance,” Naydja said.
“I told Mr. Hampton I did not have to go
home and discuss it with my parents. I
was committed and got on board.”
This was when she was introduced to
the music of Billie Holiday, whose music
she fell in love with and covers to this day.
If Naydja could do it all again she feels
that she would have thrived in a school
for the arts. After graduating high school
she attended Louisiana State University
for a few semesters but, looking back,
Naydja says school wasn’t really her thing.
“I really didn’t need to be in a regular
school,” she reflected. “I didn’t fit in. I
should have been in a school that focused
on the arts, dance and music. It would
have been ideal for someone like me.”
Naydja’s dreams of being an enter-
tainer took a back seat for many years
as she entered the world of adulthood.
Marriage, the birth of her daughter
and moving first to California and then
spending many years in Dallas took prec-
edence in her life
But Naydja did not stay away from the
stage for long. In 2001 she started singing
backup for Mel Waiters, a Southern soul
singer who achieved fame in the ‘90s for
hits and barroom classics. As she fondly
recalled, “Mel was such a huge influence
in my life. I learned so much being on the
road with him. It was through him that I
was ready to return to New Orleans with
experience under my belt.”
By 2008 Naydja was ready to come
home to her beloved New Orleans. “God
was ready for me to come home and He
rolled out the red carpet for me,” she said.
Naydja had never heard of the French
Quarter Festival before experiencing it
for the first time. As she swayed to the
music, she came to the realization that not
only did she want to be on that stage
but that she needed to be on that stage.
Naydja credits Michael “Soulman”
Baptiste and Kermit Ruffins as being in-
strumental in her success. She sat in with
both of them many times after seeing
them perform at that life altering
FQF. “I wouldn’t be where I am today
without Michael and Kermit. They
embraced and encouraged me.
Making people laugh and making
her audiences happy is why Naydja says
she performs. As she put it, “I have to
be receptive and open to the audience.
Once I walk on that stage, I become the
entertainer, the artist. It’s not about me;
it’s about the people and the joy the music
brings to them.”
Naydja's musical influences are Billie
Holiday, Deniece Williams, Whitney
Houston, Jody Watley and Chaka Khan.
She enjoys Brazilian artist Paula Lima,
Gloria Estefan and Celia Cruz