photo: Robert Gardner
Luke James doesn't take for granted his time on stage as an opening act for Beyoncé's Mrs. Carter tour. He's determined to make an impression.
"I have such a small window to give who I am," he told Yahoo Music during Part 1 of a three-part on-camera interview. "I have to make good choices. Have to understand that these people didn't come to see me. I have to be an ice breaker, break the ice with them first."
James scored the opportunity via his manager Frank Gatson, who has been Beyoncé's creative director since her days in Destiny's Child.
"I guess while creating the show and rehearsing, it came around that she was going to have an opening act," James said. "Frank was right there."
Fortunately, Beyoncé was already familiar with James' work. "She's been a fan of what I've been doing, the whole Destiny's Child family. I'm pretty grateful. For me, it's just a matter of making sure I kill it."
The exposure has been great for the fast-rising soul singer influenced by a wide range of artists from Al Green to Jodeci to Reba McEntire to Sinead O'Connor.
"My sound is very today but I think the thing that makes it feel old school and soulful is the way I sing," he said.
Anyone who thought his video for "Make Love To Me" reminded them of a particular 1970's urban sitcom would be right. "If you've seen the old television show reruns – I didn't grow up with that show – 'Good Times,' the painting in the beginning, Frank [Gatson] and I had an idea to bring that to life," he said.
In Part 2, James talks about how his music was impacted by growing up in New Orleans, spending a lot of time with his grandparents, seeing Charmaine Neville performing around town and being exposed to so many genres.
"New Orleans is gumbo," he said. "You get so man types of things … jazz, folk, Zydeco."
So it should not come as a surprise that James loves blues and jazz, and is a huge fan of a Denzel Washington film about the music. "'Mo Betta Blues,' a lot of people know the movie by Spike Lee, [it] is one of my favorites – if not my favorite – movies. Why? Because I related to it even before I lived the life, just learning about love and having a career and trying to be a better man. So, my inspiration came from living my life and that movie."
During Part 3, James recalls recently meeting Prince after performing in New York with the legendary artists' band New Power Generation. That night, Prince happened to be at the show. But James received props from the "Purple Rain" singer when he came to another NPG concert. Prince was there again, and this time when he saw James he gave him props. "I was there saying something off the mic, he just pushed me out there to perform," he said.
As a songwriter, James has worked with many acts, including Chris Brown, Keri Hilson, Britney Spears and Justin Bieber. The song he co-wrote for Brown, "Crawl," is a pivotal track about redemption and is significant because it is featured on "Graffiti," the "Fine China" singer's first album after his 2009 felony assault on ex-girlfriend Rihanna. James explains the song's crawl before you walk backstory, message and Coldplay feel.
James has acting chops as well. He says his friend Melanie Fiona asked him to play the male lead in her video "4 A.M." In the compelling short, James co-stars as the boyfriend who doesn't come home on time after a night out with his friends. As Fiona's character grows impatient, waiting for him, the suspense finds James being drugged by a woman at the bar.
On November 27, James will hit the big screen in "Black Nativity," a holiday film based on the Langston Hughes play of the same name. James describes co-starring with Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Jacob Latimore and Jennifer Hudson and Mary J. Blige.
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