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Morgan James

Morgan JamesMorgan James, born November 24th, 1981 in Boise, Idaho is an American singer, songwriter, and actress. She has appeared in numerous Broadway shows, including Motown: The Musical, Godspell, and The Addams Family. She has a voice and presence on a stage that is exquisite.

Born Morgan Grunerud Her parents, who were actors, moved often when James was a child and they eventually ending up in Modesto, California where she spent her high school years.

The daughter of educators and actors Allen Grunerud and Shellie Harwood, she and her family moved frequently when James was a child, going from Pocatello, Idaho to Utah, Tennessee, and eventually to Modesto, California where she spent her high school years.

She has a younger brother, Nicholas, who is an avant-garde musician and comedian. James was inspired by her actor parents to enter the performing arts - discovering her passion for music early on and pursueing it wholeheartedly.

She joined a choir while in middle school and her grandmother bought her a karaoke machine and agreed to pay for singing lessons until James went to college.

James graduated from High School in 1999 and at the age of 18 years old she was quickly accepted into the famous Juilliard School in New York City where she studied opera and took a master class headed by Broadway veteran, Barbara Cook, and eventually earned her Bachelor of Music in Voice in 2003.

Morgan JamesAt the age of 14, James realized it was her dream to attend The Juilliard School in New York City, and after auditioning, she was eventually wait-listed and then rejected. However, after a significant amount of correspondence with the head of admissions, she convinced him to accept her as the class's seventh singer, one above the usual six.

“I didn’t want a career in opera, but Juilliard still shaped me,” she confesses. “The traditional training really made me a disciplined singer and I carry that with me to this day.”

After college, James initially struggled to find work and looked for jobs that utilized both her opera and classical training. She spent the next few years facing the usual struggles of being a young artist in New York City.

Always low on money, she bounced back and forth between bartending and restaurant jobs while fighting to survive. Immersed in classic sixties and seventies soul records, she experienced a pivotal revelation - an epiphany.

“Out of that frustration came this other voice,” she said. “It was my true voice, and I feel like I discovered it in the middle of so much hardship just trying to be heard. So, I embraced who I was at that very moment.”

She made her Broadway debut in 2010 in the musical production of The Addams Family, starring Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth. In 2011, James appeared in Frank Wildhorn's Wonderland and the Broadway revival of Godspell.

Morgan JamesIn 2011, James appeared in Frank Wildhorn's Wonderland and the Broadway revival of Godspell. James sprained her ankle in a rehearsal for Godspell in October 2011 and was unable to perform during previews. She recuperated and, by November 2011, was performing in the musical at the Circle in the Square Theatre.

During her time on Broadway, she also moonlighted as a solo artist with a backing band often composed of Chris Fenwick, Matt Fieldes, Damien Bassman, and others. She played at numerous New York City clubs including Le Poisson Rouge, 54 Below, Rockwood Music Hall, and Birdland.

In 2013, James took on the role of Teena Marie in Berry Gordy's Motown: The Musical. The latter set the stage for her to properly launch her solo career. Gordy recognized the vocalist’s immense talent, and introduced her to Doug Morris and L.A. Reid, opening the door for a deal with Epic Records in 2012.

For “Reckless Abandon,” James is going the independent route, releasing the album herself, which means taking on more responsibility in the record-making process. It suits her personality.

“They call me Morgan ‘Squeaky Wheel’ James for good reason, because I’m not one of those artists that sits back. I want to make sure everything is aligned with my vision."

"If I had become a bit of a cookie cutter like some people do at a label, I think I potentially could have had more success, but it wouldn’t be authentic to who I am."

Morgan James"Every single thing from the font to the colors to the order to the mastering, every single song, how it was mixed, I had a huge hand in,” she says.

Part of Gordy’s message to James was stressing the importance of writing. “He always said, writing is not only the real estate of the music business,” she says, “but it’s also where you’re really going to find out who you are.”

“Before I ever thought about writing a song, I was a singer, so that’s definitely what I put my 10,000 hours in,” she says, with a nod to Malcolm Gladwell. “I haven’t put in my 10,000 hours of writing, for sure. I think, in the whole scheme of the universe, I’m still a pretty young writer."

"I hope people like the songs. I want to keep getting better as a songwriter, but I think that my true gift is as a singer and as a live singer. Not every artist can go out and do it live every single night, and that’s something I pride myself on.”

Her first solo album, Morgan James Live: A Celebration of Nina Simone, was recorded at New York jazz club, Dizzy's, and is a collection of cover songs closely associated with the legendary artist.

The incendiary show was recorded and released in December 2012 as the critically acclaimed Morgan James Live on Epic Records. It also proved to be the perfect segue for her first studio album Hunter which was released in November of 2014. The 11-track album was produced by Doug Wamble and is James' first album of all original, solo material.

Morgan JamesHer first studio album, Hunter, was released by Epic Records in November 2014. On March 31st, 2017, James began her multi-city "Reckless Abandon Tour" in support of her second studio album, Reckless Abandon, released on April 7th, 2017.

The album included her cover of Prince's song Call My Name, which Prince allowed her to put on the record - the last cover to be personally approved by Prince before his death. James is also well known for her numerous musical collaborations with the Jazz collective, Postmodern Jukebox.

On December 16th, 2016, James released her second cover album, Blue, released on the 45th anniversary of Joni Mitchell's album of the same name.

“I always knew to make a neo-soul pop record,” Morgan says. “The foundation is all real ingredients, and those roots of soul and R&B are pretty strong. It’s the culmination of my musical life up to this point."

"The painful songs are straight out of a bad relationship with someone from my past. The joyful moments are wonderful memories. It’s all coming from me. I’ve lived every one of these stories, and I love the genres I’m representing. It’s one point-of-view - mine.”

The first single I Want You tempers electronic elements with her overpoweringly soulful delivery. “It incorporates that classic spirit with a modern framework,” she goes on.

“It’s a fresh take on writing a love song. Lyrically, I really wanted to capture what it’s like to fall for someone and not be able to live without them.”

Morgan JamesThe title track and album opener Hunter boasts a seductive hook with cinematic noir flair. Flaunting the singer’s immense delivery and dynamic presence, it’s an undeniable and classy come-on that proves as animalistic as it does magnetic.

“From a woman’s perspective, it’s such an empowering and sexy song,” she smiles. “It totally makes me feel like a warrior! Music is so sensual and life-affirming. That’s what I look for. You don’t often see a girl take this position, and that’s what I love about it!”

Morgan co-wrote on eight of the collection’s eleven tracks and even performed all of her own background vocals and vocal harmonies. From the empowering farewell of Fed Up On You to the mournful You Never Lied, she continually bares it all - both emotionally and musically.

“I sing like I’m never going to sing ever again,” Morgan affirms. “I wanted to capture that power and passion every time. At some moments, it might sound flawless; at others, it might sound like it’s going to break.

I’m revealing something about myself with every song. You’ve got to do that. My favorite artists, whether Joni Mitchell or Michael Jackson, are and were, always honest.”

There’s a unique structure to the album. The first five songs boast electronic elements, while the last six don’t have any. “There’s a gradient of the record that goes down,” she says.

“By the time you get to the last song, it’s just piano and voice. It starts with a song about power and ego, and it ends on one about surrender and selflessness. I have all of that in me - maybe we all do.”

Morgan JamesUltimately, her honesty saturates everything that Morgan James does, and it’s why you’ll always remember her voice. “I want people to walk away from this album feeling fulfilled.

That’s the way it used to be. Often, I think I’m from another time". “I just want to bring back the power of the singular legacy voice.”

Since Hunter’s release, Morgan’s music videos have accumulated more than 75 million views and climbing. Achieving viral acclaim while appearing in several videos with Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox, Morgan also joined the collective on globe spanning tours through the US, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand.

As a solo artist, Morgan has performed at such notable venues as the Hollywood Bowl, Montreal Jazz Festival, Carnegie Hall and The Kennedy Center. She continues to wow audiences the world over through electric live performances with her touring band.

In addition to James’ own studio albums, Reckless Abandon and Hunter, she has released a live tribute to her idol Nina Simone, Morgan James Live. Now, James has set her sights on the Beatles’ White Album.

While each song is performed in its original key, James provides a soulful vibe and feminine flair to these classics. Released in October, 2018, The White Album cover was timed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the original release, which happened November, 1968.

James did a tour across Europe, Canada, and the U.S. named White to Blue - which celebrates both the Beatles’ White Album and Joni Mitchell’s Blue album.

Morgan JamesThroughout her remarkable career Morgan James has taken on beloved roles and songs to give them her unique perspective and make them her own.

She rocked the stage as Christ herself in an all-female version of Jesus Christ Superstar, took on a full-album acoustic cover of D’Angelo’s Black Messiah, and brought the critics to their feet with her cover of Joni Mitchell’s classic Blue album and the Beatles White album.

She has recorded and toured internationally with Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox, which performed at TD Victoria International JazzFest 2017, and covers pop songs with a vintage jazz twist.

Most recently, James released a video in which she put her signature spin on the Nirvana grunge rock classic Lithium, and her cover of Hozier’s Take Me To Church is a YouTube hit.

James currently lives in Harlem with her husband, guitarist and producer Doug Wamble, whom she wed in spring of 2016.

"A phenomenal talent whose feel for classic soul music is bone deep. This woman is on fire." - The New York Times


Sweet Child of Mine

All About That Bass - Morgan James with Haley Reinhart and Ariana Savalas


If You Don't Know Me By Now - Morgan James

Take Me To Church - New York City on May 12, 2015


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