For breakout neo-soul songstress Ari Lennox, there were no “sweet dreams” involved when she came up with her stage name.
In fact, the J. Cole protégée — whose tour will headline Bowery Ballroom on Wednesday — didn’t even know that a certain Annie had already made that last name famous in the music world.
“There are people who think it was because of Annie, but it wasn’t,” says Lennox, 28, who was born Courtney Salter. But after adopting her professional moniker, she realized, “Oh snap, there’s the legendary Annie Lennox!”
Credit her dad for schooling Lennox on just who the Eurythmics diva was: “I knew the music — I’d heard it — but I wasn’t familiar with her [name].”
Actually, it was 1993’s “The Secret Garden,” one of her favorite movies growing up, that inspired the Lennox handle.
“I was really digging the character Mary Lennox,” she says. “I thought her name was really dope . . . and I wanted, like, an English-rock-star-sounding name.”
But the Washington, DC, native’s music is all smooth R&B on “Shea Butter Baby,” her debut album, which was released in May. On the LP, Lennox mesmerizes with a voice that evokes Erykah Badu — “I guess I can’t help the twang,” she says — and a vibe that is both sultry and chill.
Inspired by a wide range of “legendary people,” including Mariah Carey, Janet Jackson, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, Lennox honed her skills playing DC open mikes at places such as Bohemian Caverns. “It made me the little soul child I am,” she says.
Lennox got her big break when rapper and producer J. Cole recruited her to lay down reference vocals on some demos for Rihanna. “But I sucked at doing that,” she says.
In fact, the singer-songwriter was sure she hadn’t hit it off at all with Cole.
“I was afraid that he didn’t even like me or that I wasn’t cool enough,” says Lennox, adding that she wasn’t the “Aaliyah type” that Cole wanted for his Dreamville Records. “But a couple months from then, he asked me to be a part of the label.”
The two conjured up some sexy soul on the title tune of “Shea Butter Baby,” which first appeared on the “Creed II” soundtrack last November. But Lennox wasn’t exactly a fan of the “Rocky” franchise.
“I knew about it, but I’d never seen a movie,” she says. “I didn’t make the record with the idea that it could be in a movie. I was just having fun with my friend [producer Elite]in the studio. I was doing my hair with shea butter, he was making a beat, and the lyrics just flowed.”
No doubt, Lennox will have some shea butter on hand when she plays her second of two sold-out shows at Bowery Ballroom this month. Describing the “beautiful vibe” at her June 4 concert, she says, “The energy was phenomenal . . . To see all these beautiful black faces in the crowd — to see people who look like me — means everything to me.”