It was the morning after Beyoncé’s triumphant second show in Atlantic City when we bumped into Luke James by an elevator bank at the Revel resort. R&B’s reigning diva had tapped the New Orleans native to warm up the capacity crowds as she staged her comeback run over Memorial Day weekend, and James had the unmistakable bop of a man who knows he’s done something … special.
Signed to Island Def Jam but still largely unknown to all but soul-music diehards, James had just the night before slayed a roomful of women that included the first lady, Michelle Obama. Armed with a flirty falsetto, James tossed long-stemmed red roses and lines like, “Before I met you, girl, I never knew my heart could dance/ I was just a broken record of one-night stands,” from his standout single “I Want You.” So what did the handsome upstart think when he heard he’d be opening up for the Grammy winner?
“The first thing I thought I was, ’OK, I need a band, gotta get the guys together, what we gon’ wear, how we gon’ do it ’cause I know she’s gonna do it … and what songs,” James recalled when he stopped by the MTV newsroom, fresh from the four-night stint.
After jotting down a few notes on his mental checklist, Luke let himself absorb the moment: “And then I’m thinking, ’This is just an amazing opportunity. … I was just elated.”
James has discovered up close what it means be a member of Queen B’s court, not only because of the A.C. gigs, but because of their shared connection to Frank Gatson Jr., Beyoncé’s longtime choreographer/creative director and now James’ manager. Dressed casually in a denim button-down and a red knit cap that called to mind old photos of Marvin Gaye, the singer paused for a heartbeat before relaying what lessons he picked up from Mrs. Carter.
“What I learned from Beyoncé is just the focus, the drive and to stay creative and to always give, just keep giving,” he said. “Throughout the years that she’s been doing it, since Destiny’s Child to now, she’s been giving.
“So this is the beginning for me … I just want to remain giving and always [be] a necessity to people, you know?” he added thoughtfully. “Giving [fans] what they need. At the same time, it’s basically giving me what I need.”
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