At 29 years old, singer and songwriter Leela James' performances hearken to performers at least a generation before her time, ones whose works she has listened to as far back as the cradle. Hers is a vocal affinity with the great gospel, soul and R&B divas from Aretha Franklin to Gladys Knight.
In her concert at the Birchmere on Monday night, she will give her audiences a taste of her latest album ,due out at the end of July, titled "Loving you More ... In the Spirit of Etta James."
"I sing all of her songs with a new fresh face on them," said the young James. "I believe that the legacy of her music is worthy of being kept alive. I want to introduce her music to a new generation of viewers."
What goes around surely comes around with James. Born in Los Angeles, she grew up with the music of Al Green and gospel singers like James Cleveland, the Mighty Clouds of Joy and Shirley Caesar. She matured listening to an eclectic array of soul and funk artists, everything from Parliament and Smokey Robinson.
|'In the Spirit of Etta James'|
|Where: The Birchmere Music Hall, 3701 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria|
|When: 7:30 pm Monday|
|Info: $25, 703-549-7500, birchmere.com|
"And there was B.B. King and all the other blues artists," she explained. "Then the hip-hop by Run-DMC and LL Cool J. There was so much that I was exposed to."
Inspired by past masters, James' musical style is completely her own and came through loud and clear in her 2010 release, "My Soul," her third album and one she defines as "an accurate reflection of who I am."
"I had to learn to take charge of where I was going and how to get there," she said back then.
Traveling with her four-piece rhythm section, she not only pays tribute to Etta James, but also makes sure the people know and appreciate Leela James.
"I enjoy performing live, because it gives me a chance to interact and connect with the people," she said.
As for taking charge and finding her way, she makes no bones about enjoying where she is in her career, as well as her own happiness at making her listeners feel good.
"I would like audiences to know that I am a true artist that truly loves music," James said. "And I do it for the people."