Music was part of her youth, but James became serious about singing when she was in high school. As a teen, she decided singing was the career she wanted to pursue. She studied music in college and worked toward her music goals, recording demos and performing wherever and whenever she could. Nine solo albums later and she is still creating. The singer with the impressive catalogue of music is releasing a new album in October.
“I am still on my musical journey and pursuing my dreams,” says James. “I am enjoying this music journey I have been on.”
Her influences are some of the great artists in soul, R&B and funk: Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, Al Green, Chaka Khan and Gladys Knight.
“I love the singers, real performers. I was exposed to these artists early on through my family and my parents. It affected how I approach music; how I hear music. Soul is embedded in me, but enhanced when I heard their souls too,” she says. “It was the soundtrack of my life growing up. It definitely shaped how I approach soul and R&B music.”
Since releasing her first album in 2005, she has had countless songs earn a spot on the Billboard charts, recognition from Soul Train Music Awards and NAACP Image Awards, and recently achieved her proudest moment as a musician.
“Fall For You went Gold. For myself, that is a major accomplishment and feat. It is very difficult as an R&B solo artist to sell records,” says James.
For other artists pursuing a career in music, she says, “It’s important to believe in yourself, stay true to yourself, and don’t stop. I know these all sound cliché, but it is important in this day and age.”
Staying true to her soul roots has certainly paid off with a successful music career and the ability to pursue other passions. While the artist has been working on her anticipated album, current projects are not within the music industry but focus on helping young women.
She is working on two passion projects. One project helps young single mothers and helping them navigate the essentials they need to make it. The other project is connected to HBCUs.
“This second project is still in its early development, but it will be centered around helping young women,” says James.
Coming to Chandler Center for the Arts on Thursday, October 12, James wants attendees to be filled with good vibes, feeling better than they did when they arrived. She also hopes they will know more about her and her music.
“I want them to be intrigued and have a good time.”
When asked what she thinks she would be doing if she didn’t have a career in music, she said she would be an interior designer or have a job in real estate. It is something she already enjoys.
“When I was younger, I did toy with the idea of being an attorney. So, I may have made a career of that.”
Who is the woman with the soulful voice listening to right now?
“It is difficult to narrow it down to one type of music; I listen to a lot of different music, but right now I am listening to a lot of Hip-Hop artists. I’ve been listening to Cardi B,” James says. “In my top three Hip-Hop artists. I am a big fan of Tupac. There is also Lil Nas and André 3000 from Outkast.”
Leela James recently released the first single off of her upcoming album called, “Right Back In It.” She says it is her favorite off the album. This little sneak peek of the music on the album gives reason to believe that listeners are going to be in for a treat in October.
Don’t miss Leela James at Chandler Center for the Arts on Thursday, October 12, 7 p.m., on the Steena Murray Mainstage. Tickets start at $38, going to $68, with ticket fees at the CCA being some of the lowest in town at $6 per ticket. Go online at chandlercenter.org or call 480-782-2680.