Branden James is a young man with a lot of soul in his eyes and the distinguished classical voice of an angel. He’s one of the Twelve Tenors and was a finalist in America’s Got Talent Season 8. It’s said that he has a voice for all seasons, but I think he has a voice for all time.
I normally post a lot of pics but with Branden James, his music talks better than pictures, so please listen to the clips I’ve shared.
Listen to this and then read on.
You can witness this for yourself at 3pm on Sunday 14 September when he performs in Branden James – Up Close and Personal at the Auto and General Theatre on theSquare in Sandton.
He is described as a highly acclaimed international classical/crossover tenor and he will take you on a heart-warming personal musical journey encompassing his love for all music styles, most especially classic, theatre, jazz interspersed with well known pop numbers. He’ll perform together with Cito from WONDERboom and British Diva vocalist Alison Ward. The audience will be treated to instantly recognisable hits like You Raise Me Up, Nessun Dorma, I’ve got you under my skin, New York New York, Desperado, Rocket Man, Your Song, This is a Man’s World, Ave Maria and The Prayer to name but a few.
I met with Branden and Collett Dawson from TheCoLab Network in Rosebank on a gorgeous spring morning where the scene was set for me by a busker playing his guitar in the parking lot at The Zone.
I’m told that in Branden James – Up Close and Personal, we can look forward to a heart-warming personal musical journey encompassing your love for all music styles, most especially classic, theatre, jazz interspersed with well known pop numbers. What’s your favourite style and what drew you to classical?
I would say classical pop. I was probably one of the most frustrating students for my piano teachers, because I didn’t always want to play what was on the sheet, I would play my own and then they would say I wasn’t practising. But I soldiered on and I learned some of the popular songs and other pieces. I think my voice is geared towards classical. It took me a while to get into singing, but I would do it by myself in the school gym and in the car, and then I almost fell into it by accident. A friend overheard me and convinced me to audition for the school choir so I did and it went on from there. I do songs like “You Raise Me Up”, I would almost say I’ve become quite synonymous with that.
And with good reason:
What are you looking forward to about doing Up Close and Personal?
I’m happy that there will be something for everyone. I’ve been to check out the Auto and GeneralTheatre on the Square and it’s so intimate so I’m looking forward to sharing all different styles of music. And I will have the honour of performing with Cito from WONDERboom. Not everybody will be able to go back to the States and say they’ve been able to do that. I’ll also do some originals – I usually like to just sit down at the piano and see what it feels right to play on the day. Also I made a lot of friends and connections here and I’m looking forward to seeing some familiar faces in the audience.
I’ve heard that you might be doing Desperado – that’s one of my favourite songs of all time. I heard it in a documentary in like the late 90s and we didn’t have the internet then and it took me about a decade to find out that it was the Eagles. Is there any particular reason for that song?
Yes. I’ve always had the influence of country music. My grandfather was the country singer Jimmy Smith and I grew up with him. My father was and still is a huge Elvis Presley fan and so I had quite a large honky tonk influence.
You’re doing a lot of TV and radio appearances while you’re here.
Yes. In fact I’m going to a TV show tonight which will be on SABC – so everyone can see it. It’s called Tongue In Cheek and I’ll be doing an original song on there as a guest artist. It will go out on air on September 16th.
You were a finalist in America’s Got Talent last year. Obviously your career had started before that so this wasn’t a career launching entry. Why did you want to enter it and how did it assist you?
I’d always had an obsession with these types of shows. I actually was interested in American Idol and The Voice and they said I was good but maybe my voice didn’t quite suit the format of the show. That’s also what prompted me to explore other styles. And then a friend of mine suggested that I try America’s Got Talent, because it wasn’t only about pop it was about all different styles and different forms of entertainment. And it took me three years to get the nerve up to try and when I did it was so worth it. It just increases your audience and the benefits of doing well on it are incredible. I mean the audience is up to about 14 million.
What advice would you give to people looking to enter a show like America’s Got Talent?
Just be your most authentic self. TV audiences are no dummies. You have to be on top of your performance. And social media has changed the way we view TV – even to the point of how people vote in shows like AGT. You don’t only SMS in now. You can vote on Twitter or other ways online.
What were highlights for you of your Twelve Tenors tour to SA in 2010?
I loved it. It was the final stop on a world tour we were doing. I just loved the spirit of the place. It’ unparalleled. And Collett organised so many great things. She took us to so many places including a place called Glen Afric that was just so amazing. The South African audiences are so appreciative. People were actually screaming for us and they really showed how much they liked us. Also the guys were so great. People would ask us whether we all got on, and we did! There was nothing wrong, we are more like brothers actually. And I had worked with some of the guys before. There are times when I miss working in a big band of guys like that because of the camaraderie. Also the food in South Africa is amazing. I’m a foodie and I grew up in New York City where the food is very diverse and when I came here I was expecting it to be a bit bland and more like British food but I was very surprised and pleased by the different foods here.
Do you have a favourite song?
That’s a difficult question for a musician to answer because my taste is so varied and it changes on a weekly or bi weekly basis. But I just heard a song called Family by aSowetan band called Soil this morning and that’s going to become a favourite for the next while. I’m going to download it as soon as I can get to some wifi. I also like jazzy songs like My Funny Valentine (Recorded by Chet Baker, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Andy Williams, Miles Davis, Nico and Chaka Khan. The song is a popular jazz standard, appearing on over 1300 albums performed by over 600 artists.)
I’ve heard that you kicked off games for the Los Angeles Lakers, Chicago Cubs, and Chicago Bulls with your rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner. Are you a sports fan yourself and what’s it like performing in front of a sporting crowd?
I’m actually not much of a sports fan but I enjoy the atmosphere and it’s nice to sing the national anthem. Also with games like the Lakers, they have a huge celebrity following and I like to look for the famous faces in the crowds.
As with all of us I’m sure you’ve had setbacks or difficulties and times when it’s hard to push on. In those times what pushes you?
Every artist struggles at times because they are professional and perfectionists so sometimes it’s just about thinking about not being good enough. Actually one of my favourite quotes is by Eleanor Roosevelt who said “Do one thing every day that scares you”. So I constantly put myself in places where I’m scared, to push myself to grow further.
I’ve often wondered what it would be like to stand up in front of a large audience and perform. I don’t think that I could do it. Are you a natural with that or is that something that might be daunting?
It depends a lot on the context, but I think I am quite natural. And writing and playing music, sitting down at my piano, that’s my place of calm. That’s what gives me peace and strength.
I love America at least what I know of it. If I could have my choice of place to be, I’d be living in California near Santa Barbara or Santa Monica. I see that you come from Orange County. I know they’re quite a jump apart, but have you always lived there and can you tell me something of your experience growing up as a classical musician there?
Although Orange County is in California it is still quite a world away from LA, they are really two different worlds. Orange County is more like a family community and I think it is almost because there is quite a lack of creativity. I’ve also lived in New York for a while and sometimes you have to wade through the Hollywood stereotypes. The culture and creativity is there, but sometimes you have to drive to find it.
I believe that musicians, artists, actors etc have the ability to tweak the golden thread of humanity with their art – it goes across generations, nations, races. You can move people, and make them think more about things – inspire people. Is that something that you aim to achieve with your music? Do you want to do this for other people or is it something that you need to do?
Both. Expression is important. And I often get people contacting me who are say they are inspired by my story who say I have helped them deal with certain issues. I think I’ve been quite open with my sexuality and I don’t mind if I’m seen as an LGBT activist even though it’s not my primary purpose. I sometimes even get people contacting me from the Middle East and places saying that my story inspires them . I come from a strong religious background and it was quite a struggle with my parents when I came out. Slowly things are mending, and I want to be a comfort to people and be able to tell them it won’t always be that way. I like knowing that people can take comfort from my story.
There shouldn’t be any issue about people’s sexuality. I mean, who cares. It should be that anyone can be who they want and shouldn’t feel the need to come out to anyone else. Do you think that there will ever be a day when that kind of acceptance comes?
I’m an optimist, so I’m going to say yes. I have a love for humanity, not taking into account people’s sexuality. Also with social media we’re able to make immense strides and break down barriers. So I’m going to say that that day will come.
What’s up next for you after Up Close and Personal?
Well after this I’m going to Reykjavik. I’m doing the show on Sunday at 3 and then getting on a plane at 7. It’s a long journey. And then after that I’m doing some shows on a ship and then heading to New Zealand, I’ll be doing some shows in Auckland. There’s a lot going on. And I’m looking forward to seeing some familiar faces on Sunday at the Auto and General Theatre on the Square.
As I left Branden gave me a hug and I know that I’ve been hugged by a man with one of the nicest voices in the world today.
BRANDEN JAMES – Up Close and Personal
One Show only!
Sunday, 14 September 2014
Auto and General Theatre on the Square