On Valentine’s Day, the Black Student Union hosted its annual free music event, Black Love, featuring twice-Grammy-nominated R&B singer Luke James. Just before doors opened, the lobby of Toyon Hall was packed with students dressed in evening wear and black ties. Once inside, the feeling in the room was celebratory and loving, with students enjoying the intimacy of the performances and the warmth of the community in attendance.
According to the Black Student Union, Black Love is meant to be “an affirmation of love in our community … It is a celebration of love in its myriad forms that is rooted in community uplift.”
The event’s organizers also noted that their “celebration of black love is a political and revolutionary act because it offers a counter-narrative for absent positive images of familial, romantic and self-love among black people.”
The three-hour show opened with a series of Stanford students and alumni offering soulful vocal and spoken-word performances, each with themes touching on the beauty and sometimes bitter complexity of love. The sense of community was strong as each act took the stage, with roars from the crowd calling for more after each bow. The crowd couldn’t get enough, and Luke James, this year’s featured artist, was happy to indulge them.
James opened with a laid-back rendition of Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel,” his vocals falling tastefully behind the groove set by his keyboard accompanist. After introducing himself, he invited the audience to crowd the foot of the stage for his hit “Dancing in the Dark.” The highlight of his set was the cathartic “Exit Wounds,” a song that began with tales of heartbreak and ended with James screaming for everyone to throw their middle fingers up while he sang lyrics not fit for print.
James has the vocal talent, songwriting ability and stage presence of a superstar. Yet while he’s already been nominated for two Grammy Awards and toured the world as Beyoncé’s opening act, he’s still not a household name. But given the strength of his performance Saturday night, it seems like only a matter of time before that changes.
James’s strength lies in his performance ability. While his pop-influenced songwriting and soothing falsetto don’t necessarily make him an innovator in R&B, he is offering fresh energy to the genre. On stage, he has the sexually-charged charisma of legendary Motown singer Marvin Gaye coupled with the flourish of Michael Jackson. In my mind, if he can translate the live energy he delivered on Saturday to his next album, he’ll blow up in no time.
In an intimate Q&A session with a handful of students after the show, James indicated that he’s planning to release a new album next year. In his words, the next project will be his arrival, and when you hear it, “You’ll be able to say, ‘That’s Luke.’”
Regardless of when he makes his entrance on the world stage, though, he’s already made quite the impression on campus. If you were lucky enough to attend Black Love this year, you’ll have stories to tell when he makes it big.
Luke James’s new single, “Bad News,” can be heard on Soundcloud.
Contact Benjamin Sorensen at bcsoren ‘at’ stanford.edu.