Retro-soul man Leon Bridges makes music that has deep roots in African-American culture. But the artist—who will perform at ESSENCE Festival, June 30-July 3 in New Orleans—has struggled to find a Black audience.
“You won’t see my music get played on any urban station,” says Bridges, whose 2015 debut, Coming Home, was nominated for a Best R&B Album Grammy. “I’m pretty sure that they’d probably play Sam Smith over me.
“You go back 60-70 years ago and this style of music is all Black people had. But now if there ain’t a beat behind it or if the song content is not what’s up with current music, then that’s not going to draw a Black crowd from the jump.
“I want my people to be at my shows. And it’s crazy how people can say that I’m alienated from my Black audience, like I’m putting a sign out: ”Don’t come.’ I make music for everybody.”
Bridges is looking forward to playing in front of a predominantly Black crowd when he takes the Superdome stage at ESSENCE Fest: “That’s something that I’ve never had, and it’s going to be great. My family’s from New Orleans, so they’re going to be out there representing!”