Huffpost Black Voices

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Peter 'Souleo' Wright Headshot

On the "A" w/Souleo: R&B Divas: L.A. Star Leela James Talks New Music

Posted: Updated:

Leela James hasn't decided on the title of her forthcoming album, but if her current state is anything to go by, then perhaps the word, "good," should be somewhere in the title.

She recently joined the cast of TV One's hit reality series: R&B Divas: L.A., has a new single featuring Anthony Hamilton, titled "Say That," and is excited about how her new album is coming together. All of this good news comes a few years after she had to change her team, following revelations that funds were being stolen from her account.


Leela James/Credit: Ben Duggan

"I just had to shut down, regroup, get rid of old stuff and get fresh basically. I bounced back fine. I am in a good place," she shared. "I have a great team behind me now and the music came out really good for this project. We did some of the best since my debut."

On the album, James promises to deliver the kind of gutbucket-wrenching soul that her loyal fans have come to expect.

I took it back to the core of soul music. I have a song called 'Fall For You.' It's talking about the vulnerability you feel when you find yourself falling and the insecurity of that feeling. It's a good thing but it can also be scary. Sometimes you don't want to fall in love 'cause you don't want to be open and make yourself feel vulnerable.

James isn't afraid to let go when it comes to embracing being a first-time mom. She gave birth two years ago to her daughter, and is happily reaping the rewards of motherhood. "When you become a parent your life changes forever. I realize I have even more peace. I have more inner joy. Balancing work and motherhood can be tough but I got a great support system now."


Paulette McWilliams/Courtsey: Shabazz Communications

Some of the most important members on a recording artist's team are backup singers. Paulette McWilliams has backed up some of the biggest names in music, including Luther Vandross, Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston. Plus, you may have heard her voice in numerous commercials as a jingle specialist for companies such as Cover Girl and Folgers. While promoting her latest jazz album Telling Stories and upcoming gig at Joe's Pub in New York City, she shared her appreciation for the public's growing interest in backup singers, thanks to the documentary 20 Feet From Stardom.

I was one of the first who was asked to be in that movie and I couldn't do it, since I was on my way to Russia. But I am grateful it came out because it shined a light on something no one in the industry wanted to bring to the forefront, 'cause they were afraid it would take attention away from the artist. Not everyone can be a backup singer, and I am grateful to be one of those singers, and I'm happy I am doing my own thing now, too.

These days she is focused on her solo career as she puts the finishing touches on a live album. Even though she missed out on appearing in 20 Feet From Stardom she will get her chance to shine on the big screen with a role in, At the Maple Grove. The project completed its Kickstarter campaign in October, and is now being submitted to film festivals.

Nelson Frank/Courtesy: Double XXposure Media

There's another backup singer seeking to claim the spotlight, and his name is, Nelson Frank. The pop/R&B singer-songwriter has backed up Dave Hollister, Tank and Ginuwine. He's even a multiple Grammy nominee for co-writing Pleasure P's song "Under." Still he enjoyed being a backup singer so much that he was willing to do it for the foreseeable future. "I became complacent. I never wanted to be solo. It was fun to be on a winning team and play my part," he admitted.

But at the behest of music producer, Chink Santana he decided to take full control of his career and plans to release his debut album in 2014 titled, Nothing's Impossible. "It took time for me to find out I was my own competition. No one can do me. I learned to embrace my talent and to focus on bringing out the best I could be in this business," he said. "Since I made that decision, I've been running to my destiny."


The weekly column, On the "A" w/Souleo, covers the intersection of the arts, culture and entertainment scene in Harlem and beyond, and is written by Souleo, founder and president of event/media content production company, Souleo Enterprises, LLC.