Music News & Reviews

She does it for ‘Love’: R&B singer Leela James at Raleigh’s Red Hat

Leela James performs at Red Hat Amphitheater Friday.
Leela James performs at Red Hat Amphitheater Friday. Getty Images for TV One

Leela James is a woman of few words. When the soul singer took part in this interview, her answers were brief and curt, not wasting any time on pontificating or coming up with superfluous answers.

You can hardly blame her for this. After all, the woman is busy. James has two kids – one of them was in her belly while making her latest album, “Did It for Love,” which came out earlier this year. Even though she was with child (and also in the middle of a tour), James enjoyed herself while making “Love.”

“Well, making this album, for me, was pretty easy,” says the LA-born James, 33, on the phone from her Houston home. “I just went into the studio, like I do with all my projects, and I try to, you know, just be firm and honest with whatever it is I’m feeling at the time. And that’s what I end up singing and writing about when I’m in the studio. I don’t do a whole lot of pre-meditating of the album before… So, I just like to see what naturally comes out and, then, start building from there.”

“Love” is the latest album James has released on her own label, Shesangz Music. James has done her time with major labels in the past and now finds the indie route the way to go. “The experiences I had – they weren’t the greatest,” she says. “So, I just wanted to try something different.”

Dropping her own music on her own terms has been paying off. Last month, her single “Don’t Want You Back” hit number one on the Billboard Adult R&B Songs Chart. James even posted the news on her Instagram page.

“Definitely, it felt good, and it felt good for a lot of reasons – I’ve been in the business for a while and, you know, just having records that didn’t go number one,” she says. “So, to have this one go number one, you know, definitely felt like a form of vindication.”

In the past, James has worked on making sure people knew of her and her talents, even appearing for two seasons on the short-lived TV One reality show “R&B Divas: Los Angeles,” alongside such contemporary soul singers as Chante Moore, Chrisette Michele and Lil’ Mo. A reality show is something she wouldn’t mind doing again.

“It was a great school of exposure,” she says. “I had fun with it at times, so it was fun for me.”

Until that day comes, she’ll just keep on doing her. She’s currently on tour, opening up for Maxwell (she’ll be doing that Friday evening at Red Hat), and making the sort of mature, grown-folks music that might not be popular with the young kids, but – as evidenced by the success of “Back” – still has an audience out there.

“I just do what I do, and I feel like I do what I do fairly well,” she says. “I don’t necessarily focus on what other people are doing. I’m about making real music, and I think that the cream rises to the top. And, at the end of the day, people have a real appreciation for real singers and real soul music – real R&B. That’s pretty much all I can really say on that matter.”


Who: Maxwell, with Ledisi and Leela James

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday

Where: Red Hat Amphitheater, 500 S. McDowell St., Raleigh

Cost: $32 - $240

Info: 919-996-8800 or