Black Music Month Essay: Leela James on the Essence of Soul Music

By Karu F. Daniels

With her trademark lioness mane and ferocious vocal prowess, R&B singer Leela James stands out as one of the most dynamic divas-in-the-making among today's ever-growing crop of music acts. A native of South Central, Los Angeles, the pint-size powerhouse released her Stax Records debut opus, titled 'My Soul,' just last week. The critically acclaimed set follows in James' tradition of paying homage to the great soul singers who came before her, while also delivering a fresh, new perspective on rhythm and blues. For Black Music Month 2010, the 27-year-old NAACP Image Award nominee writes about the essence of soul music.

leela james Pictures, Images and Photos

Black Music Month is a more than a celebration of our history in music. It represents our influence on modern music as a whole. Jazz, Soul, Blues, and most importantly Rock & Roll, are forever in debt to our groundbreaking predecessors.

Every genre has been touched by the sounds of the great, Black musicians of the past. While many of these pioneers do not receive the credit they deserve, the influence of these unsung heroes has flooded the airwaves for decades.

Old-school soul artists poured everything into their music. I strive to do that every time I'm in the studio or on stage. I pay homage to the greats because their music paved the way for me to do what I love.

Soul music is about capturing the essence of raw emotion. I use it as my template for creating timeless art. I pour everything into my music because it is an extension of me. My music is like a diary and offers my audience a glimpse into my life. That vulnerability allows them to really connect with me as an artist.Aretha Franklin and Gladys Knight told the most amazing stories through their voices. The range and power they used is still unmatched today. You could feel the passion in their voices when they sang from their gut. It gave you chills.

Voices like Phyllis Hyman and B.B. King were special because you could hear the pain in their voices. It's truly a gift when you listen to a song and are touched by the artist's emotion behind it.

You can't forget about Parliament, Bootsy Collins and James Brown. They were fearless in their dress and sound. The funk in their music inspires me to just be creative and take risks!

Old-school music is classic, timeless, soulful and enduring. My core audience appreciates good music. They are looking to be inspired, but still want that vintage flavor. Timeless music always has a place in the world. Fans embrace it because the old-school feeling allows them to escape to a time when music truly moved the masses.

Our musicians have paved the way for all artists -- not just black. They challenged us to be fearless in our art because of the barriers they broke down for us.

I'm inspired all the time. You never know when a spark of creativity may hit. New ideas may come from places I have visited or different people I've met. I get inspiration from artists who are out now and still draw from those in the past. It's the job of any artist to continuously switch it up and give the people something new. You have to keep the fans entertained and guessing about what you may do next!

-- Leela James

Via By Karu F. Daniels AOL BlackVoices

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