‘I had to do dramatic things to get attention’: sax player Lakecia Benjamin on crashing Prince gigs and charming Stevie Wonder

The US musician once had to strategise her way to the spotlight. Now, having survived a life-threatening accident, she’s using her solo career to highlight ‘those who aren’t getting enough shine’

During a fallow work period in the early 2000s, saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin took matters into her own hands. “People weren’t calling me for gigs, so I started jumping on their stages to get them to hire me,” she says. Two attempts to crash a Prince gig in Las Vegas were thwarted, first by the singer’s unexpected medley of unsuitable a cappella numbers and then by a bouncer. After Prince read about the commotion, he invited Benjamin to try out for his band, and she played for two weekends at the end of his residency. “I had to do dramatic things to get attention,” she says.

Benjamin’s striking personality flows through her stories: she embodies jazz as an attitude and a look, as well as a sound. “You’re not here to get out of bed and go on stage looking the same as the guy in the front row,” she says of the metallic clothing she wears on the cover of Phoenix, her fourth album. “Your presentation is a representation of your music before it’s heard.”

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