New Orleans native Luke James earned a Grammy nomination for his song, “I Want You.” Although rhythm-and-blues star Usher and his song, “Climax,” ultimately won the Grammy last month for best R&B performance, James wasn’t disappointed.
“I didn’t walk away with a trophy but I do feel like I won,” he said from New York, where he’s filming the movie musical, Black Nativity.
James, a singer and songwriter from New Orleans’ 7th Ward, had attended the Grammy Awards before but never as a nominee.
“It was an awesome experience,” he said. “Getting dressed, pulling up to the red carpet, people taking pictures, interviews. Finding the seats, waiting to hear the news, whatever news it was. Being there in the presence of everyone. It was just dope, really awesome.
“And the biggest thing out of it all was just to be nominated. My work has been heard and this is only the beginning.”
James brought his mother to Los Angeles for the Grammy Awards show.
“She got to see the behind the scenes,” he said. “Of course, it’s a lot of ripping and running and pulling. A little bit of drama but it still was a great experience for her.”
James’ Grammy nomination came even before his album debut’s release. A date for the Mercury/Island Def Jam album has yet to be set.
“The feeling we’re having is summer but it’s all subject to change,” he said. “Because I want everyone to know that I have an album, even if I’m not their type of music.”
Songwriting became James’ path to being a recording artist. His writing credits include songs recorded by Chris Brown (“Crawl”), Justin Bieber (“That Should Be Me”) and Britney Spears (“Kill the Lights”).
James grew up with a piano-playing mom who has eclectic musical tastes. Everything from Marvin Gaye, Donny Hathaway and Luther Vandross to Willie Nelson, Reba McEntire and Kenny Rogers to Sinéad O’Connor and Led Zeppelin.
“She opened up to a different world to me,” he said. “I guess I found my never-never land in music, so the dreams are endless.”
James began crafting his own songs by studying other people’s songs and then rewriting them.
“I was young and listening to songs by Babyface and Donny Hathaway,” he said. “I think I’ve always been a creator. It was just a matter of me finding what and how I would create.”
James also played saxophone and attended the Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong Summer Jazz Camp.
“Jazz was the first thing I really tried to pursue,” he said. “I was just searching. I’m still searching.”
After singing with a trio during high school, James moved to Los Angeles. He sang backup for R&B singer Tyrese, met the production team known as the Underdogs and formed the duo Luke and Q.
“The business part of everything got the best of us,” he said of Luke and Q. “So we went our separate ways to figure things out as our own men. I got heavy into writing. The money from that helped me stay afloat in L.A. But the idea was always to pursue being an artist.”
James normally gets home to New Orleans twice a year, so he’s looking forward to his headlining appearance Sunday at Soul Fest at the Aububon Zoo. Of course, he visited the zoo during school field trips when he was a kid.
“I remember the trees. I remember the entrance of the zoo. Wow. I can’t wait.”
L.A. resident James has been in New York for three months to shoot writer-director Kasi Lemmons’ big-screen adaptation of the Langston Hughes musical, Black Nativity.
“Kasi Lemmons and her vision are brilliant,” he said. “I mean, it’s cold, but we’re having a great time. This movie talks about love and redemption, compassion and forgiveness. It’s beautiful.”
The movie, his Grammy nomination and forthcoming album are all components of James’ rising star.
“I’m super blessed. I’m riding a wave, just trying to stay on board. It feels good.”