Parson James describes his own music as "conflicted pop gospel," and those three words only scratch the surface of his style; while his vocals are clearly informed by gospel, soul, and classic R&B, his lyrics and outlook often hark back to the conflict and judgment he faced growing up in a conservative Christian community in the Deep South.
James was born in 1994 in Cheraw, South Carolina, a small town with a population of roughly 5,000. His mother was only 16 when James was born, and she was white while James' father was black, which didn't escape the notice of local gossips. James' mother was fond of classic country and early rock & roll, including Elvis Presley, Wanda Jackson, and Johnny Cash, while his father, who came from a family of gospel singers, favored artists such as Yolanda Adams and Donnie McClurkin. James' father had severe drug dependency issues, and was an infrequent presence in James' life. As James tried to find his own way, he turned to music, and performed regularly at talent competitions in Cheraw and the surrounding area. By the time he was 17, James had also accepted that he was gay, but was afraid to come out in an unaccepting community, so he graduated early from high school, worked odd jobs for a few months, and moved to New York City. In the Big Apple, James worked by day in restaurants and by night he appeared at open nights and appeared as part of a burlesque troupe's "Soul Night." He was spotted by a vocal coach who helped him refine his vocal style, and a producer looking for demo vocalists heard James and urged him to begin writing his own songs and forge his own musical persona rather than follow the styles of others. James landed his big break when Norwegian DJ and producer Kygo tapped James to sing the lead vocal on his track "Stole the Show." James' soulful, emotive performance helped make the song into a major international hit, and in the wake of its success, James was signed to a record deal with RCA Records. With his first RCA release, "Sinner Like You," released in July 2015, James confronted the obstacles he faced as a young gay man of mixed heritage; his own version of "Stole the Show" followed in August 2015, and a new song, "Temple," appeared two months later. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi