On any given Sunday, you can find Grammy Award-nominated artist Maysa Leak sitting in her kitchen in Baltimore County, Maryland’s Pikesville neighborhood, and putting on a mini concert for her fans on Facebook Live. It’s something she’s been doing for about seven years at the suggestion of a friend.
“My really good friend and mentor, saxophonist Walter Beasley called me one day and said, ‘Maysa, you have to do this thing called Facebook Live.’ And I was like, ‘What is that?’” remembers Leak. “So he explained it and said it’s a great way for me to keep in touch with the people who love my music. And I had just finished my new website, so I thought maybe I’ll go on Facebook Live to announce my new website and turn on my TV tracks and sing a song.”
So she did just that. “And the people loved it and asked if I was coming back the next Sunday!” she exclaims. “So I said ‘Okay,’ and did it again the next Sunday. And it just snowballed into this amazing thing,” she laughs.
But Leak’s peers criticized her for it. “They said, ‘Why are you giving away your music for free?’’ Leak laments. “But I told them my Facebook Lives are nothing like my live concerts. Plus, I have more people coming to my shows now because of my Kitchen Karaoke.”
And during the height of the pandemic, Leak says it helped her and her fans to survive. “When my gigs shut down during that time, people were very generous in donating and sending money through my cash app,” Leak admits. She adds, “I wouldn’t ask for any money. I would just list my cash app in case anybody wanted to give. But once I got back to performing in person, I took the cash app down.”
She continues, “So many people said they needed to watch my Kitchen Karaoke every Sunday and that they wouldn’t have gotten through the pandemic without it.” Leak says she and her Kitchen Karaoke fans have become like family. That’s not surprising considering one of her recent sessions where she not only sang songs from her new album, “Music For Your Soul,” but she also got emotional talking about her family and those who had recently passed on, as well as her fear about her son’s safety is this world of police brutality.
Her fans, including this reporter, were feeling that right along with her. “And on the times when I’m doing a gig or out of town and can’t do Kitchen Karaoke on a Sunday, I’ll try to do what I call “Make-up Mondays.”
From the Fire into the Frying Pan
But while Leak enjoys doing Facebook Lives, it was a traumatic event that actually gave it its name. In 2016, while she was getting off a plane to do a gig in Los Angeles, a neighbor called to tell Leak that her Pikesville home, which she grew up in, was on fire.
“It was just a few months after we started karaoke Sundays, and I had to go on stage that night knowing that my house had burnt down,” she laments. “I wasn’t living in the house at the time, but my two brothers were. Thankfully, they weren’t hurt and I was able to rebuild the house,” she adds with relief.
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During Christmas of that year, as renovations were almost finished, Leak invited the family over. “Most of the kitchen was done – the cabinets were in, the island was in. And I decided we would order some pizza and do a Christmas Eve karaoke,” Leak explains. “We were having a good time and one of my cousins said, ‘This is Maysa’s Kitchen Karaoke.’ And that’s how we got the name.”
For the Love of Food and Travel
Leak’s renovated kitchen is much larger than when she grew up in the house and she loves cooking in it. “I love to cook! It’s soothing and it’s the way I express love to my family,” Leaks effuses. “My parents used to have the biggest blue lights in the basement parties here…That’s why I had the house rebuilt because I wanted to continue those big family parties that my parents used to have,” she smiles.
“We have Sunday dinners here a lot. And it’s hard for me to cook for one, so sometimes I just call family and say, ‘I just cooked some food, y’all come on over,’” she laughs. She continues, “I’m known for my chicken salad, my chicken ziti and something I made up called black butter chicken, which is a take on the Indian butter chicken [made in a creamy curry sauce] because I love Indian food. I added my own spices to the recipe and now everyone asks me to make it,” she says with pride.
Leak says her love of food expanded through her travels. “London is my favorite destination. It’s like another hometown,” she says. If I could afford to live there, I would live there a lot more. Sicily was also amazing and so was Greece.” She continues, “When I first joined the group Incognito, I was just a McDonald’s girl,” she laughs. “But after world travel and being exposed to Thai food, Indian food, Italian and German food, my palette has definitely expanded a lot,” she exclaims.
“My favorite food is Italian, especially spaghetti carbonara, and I’ve been blessed to enjoy that in Italy.” She continues, “When I was in Japan, I fell in love with hibachi and ate a lot of Kobe beef. I was pregnant with my son at the time, and I joke that he’s made of Kobe beef because that’s what satisfied my cravings,” she laughs.
But she says there’s a downside to travel. “When I’m traveling, I hardly have time to see any of the sites,” she laments. “Usually, I get off the plane, check-in at the hotel, go do the sound check, go back to the hotel to get dressed and go do the show, then get up at four or five a.m. and get back to the airport.”
But she hopes to expand Kitchen Karaoke across the country and the world. “One of the ideas I also want to make happen is Maysa’s Dinner with Jazz & Soul, which is an offshoot of Kitchen Karaoke. It’s where I would take it on the road to these intimate venues that have a chef’s kitchen, or I would hire a chef to come out, and I would cook a bit with the chef and then sing to the people while they are waiting for dinner to be served.”
She adds, “In fact, at the end of February, I’m going to LA to do Maysa’s Kitchen Karaoke at a club called Spaghettini in Seal Beach. They’ll do a short interview with me, then the chef will make my chicken salad and then I’ll give a mini concert.”
Planning the Future
“I’d like to do more events like the special Mother’s Day Kitchen Karaoke we did in 2022, where I had a live band and I had a chef come in and cook for us. It was really nice,” the Maryland native says. That was a paid event, which Leak says made $10,000.
“I’ve also done Kitchen Karaoke where I’ve had my headsets on and sang while I was cooking, which was kind of cool,” she adds. Leak plans to do more of that in the future. She also plans to bring back her fragrance lines inspired by her 2015 album “Back to Love.”
In 2018, Leaks started her own label – Blue Velvet Soul Records, which she named after her 2013 album that garnered her first Grammy Award nomination. Leak says she plans to do a ‘straight-ahead’ jazz album, a house music album and a country music album on her label.
“And my record label won’t be greedy. I want to empower my artists and educate them about ownership. And I want to teach them that they don’t have to compromise their morals to sing.”
Leak is making plans for an album release party in Baltimore in March and will be back on the road with Incognito in June. But she says her Kitchen Karaoke is what she loves doing to thank her fans for her long career. “I haven’t had to go out and get a ‘real’ job in 32 years,” she laughs. “I’ve been through a lot of challenges in this business, including people telling me to lose weight, but I’m still here!” She concludes, “It’s my heart and soul to make music and make people happy. I stayed the course and didn’t compromise my gift from God.”
To follow Leak for her Kitchen Karaoke dates and her latest album, visit her website, Facebook and Instagram pages. And for bookings on Kitchen Karaoke, contact Denise Jordan-Walker at email@example.com.