For someone whose music is far from controversial, Leon Bridges found himself mired in quite the complicated debate on race and rodeos earlier this year.
The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo has grown a reputation over the decades as being one of the preeminent musical events in the country, let alone Texas. With audience numbers totaling more than 1 million attendees by the final show of the 20-day run, the Rodeo’s insistence on booking heavy toward country music acts has always been a sour spot among the local African-American community.
So when Bridges was booked for the Rodeo’s Black Heritage Day, the decision was met with an outcry from Houston residents that took many by surprise.
Bridges’ 2015 debut album, “Coming Home,” saw great success behind the strength of the singer’s brand of retro-soul, earning him a Grammy nomination and landing at the top of Billboard’s hip-hop and R&B charts. But some say he has failed to cultivate a significant following within the African-American community. Months later, Bridges still receives very little exposure within African-American pop culture.
Bridges, whose second album, “Good Thing,” in 2016 was critically acclaimed, will perform at Red Hat Amphitheater in downtown Raleigh Aug. 27.
But here are some bits of trivia about the vocalist that points toward his gritty origins.
1. Leon Bridges is a stage name.
Well, at least the Leon portion of it is. It seems that Bridges’ father was — no joke — a big fan of the ‘80s TV sitcom “Diff’rent Strokes” and decided he would name his kid after Willis himself, Todd Bridges. Leon Bridges, in an interview with the Toronto Sun, elaborated on the name change. “There was this actor named Leon (Robinson) in films like ‘The Temptations and The Five Heartbeats,’ and when I started writing songs, I was like, ‘Todd is a little weird.’ So I went with Leon.”
2. His ‘50s vibe transcends just the music.
While Bridges’ vocal stylings have been compared to such classic soul performers as Otis Redding and Sam Cooke, his taste in clothing would have fit in during their heyday as well. Discussing his wardrobe with Billboard, the singer said, “For inspiration, I go online and search ‘Chicago 1950s’ or ‘New York 1950s’. I love how, back then, wearing a suit was the norm and the way they dressed was clean and it fit. Especially when compared to skinny jeans.”
3. He is much more familiar with ‘90s R&B than Motown.
While splitting his time as a kid between his mother and father’s homes in Fort Worth and Dallas, Bridges surrounded himself with the popular music playing on the radio at the time. He told Billboard that he was only introduced later in life to the music of those like Cooke and Redding, to whom he is now compared. “Nostalgia for me isn’t Sam Cooke,” he told the magazine, “as much as it’s listening to a Ginuwine song or hearing Dallas hip-hop and remembering dancing to it in my garage.”
4. Bridges loves a challenge.
The singer is open about his upbringing in a family that struggled financially. Bridges didn’t even know of the existence of music festivals before getting booked to play them, but now he finds the experience of performing in front of festival crowds some of the most rewarding. Speaking to music site Monster Children, he said, “It’s definitely fun at this stage to win over the crowd. At some festivals, the fans don’t necessarily know who you are, or they haven’t seen us play a show. It’s always fun to kind of shock people.”
5. He has faced resistance before.
In late 2015, Bridges was interviewed by Rolling Stone, and the subject was raised about the singer’s song “So Long” on the soundtrack to the Will Smith film “Concussion.” The personal song’s lyrics responded to some of unsupportive reactions he had received at home following his success.
Bridges described his thought process behind creating the song. “I didn’t want to write a song that was too literal to the film, so I just emailed a personal story about me going back home and these people back home saying I don’t deserve to be where I’m at because I haven’t been working as long as these other musicians who have been doing it longer,” he told Rolling Stone. “The song is saying that I love where I’m from but maybe I need to leave because I don’t feel the love anymore.”
Who: Leon Bridges, with Masego
When: 7:30 p.m., Aug. 27
Where: Red Hat Amphitheater, 500 S. McDowell St., Raleigh
Cost: $25, $47.50, $65, $79.50, $182
Info: LiveNation.com or 919-996-8530