Soundtrack Of My Life: ‘Hamilton’ star Leslie Odom Jr.

'Hamilton' star set to play Sam Cooke in 'One Night In Miami'

The first song I remember hearing

Whitney Houston – ‘Greatest Love Of All’

“I think her version of this song began my obsession with the pristine vocal: it doesn’t get any better than Whitney Houston! There was a cassette tape and recorder that I had for a long time — it makes me really sad that we don’t know where it is anymore — and I’d record myself speaking and singing, and then play it back. I didn’t find anything more fascinating than the sound of my voice! There was this one tape where the A-side was me singing ‘Greatest Love Of All’ – I would just do that big ending [proceeds to sing the ending] on loop again and again.”

The first song I fell in love with

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Janet Jackson – ‘Let’s Wait Awhile’

“There was something so beautiful, fragile, feminine and just lovely about early Janet Jackson. I was head-over-heels in love with her. There was something about her singing that song that made you feel like you were on a first date with her, and she was singing that song to you!”

The first album I ever bought

Aaliyah – ‘Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number’

“That was the first full-length album that I laid down my $9.99 to buy. I was curious about her youth and the fact that she was this big star but she was a kid, just like me. It wasn’t that I wanted to be a star myself, I didn’t! But I was very interested in what a kid had to say to another kid.”

The first gig that floored me

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Bilal – Philadelphia, late ’90s

“This wasn’t the first actual live show I saw, but it was the first live show that knocked me on my ass. Bilal was two years above me at the Philadelphia High School for Creative And Performing Arts [CAPA], and he went off and found success quite quickly. It must’ve been a Christmas break, because I was at home and a friend and I from high school went to see Bilal in this little club in Philly. I had seen the guy perform — he was always the best in the room, so I thought I knew what he was capable of — but he had gone a way and just continued to sharpen and deepen. He came back as something to see. For a long time that show was my bar for live performance.

The song that reminds me of home

Boyz II Men – ‘Motownphilly’

“I grew up in Philadelphia, and Philly’s right there in the title! They also went to CAPA, but not at the same time as I did — they were famous alumni. There’s nothing like hearing your hometown broadcast from the world stage, you know? Seeing guys that walked the same streets, rode the same trains and buses as we did, make it and do it as themselves with the same exuberance and joy that we all had was inspiring.”

The song I wish I’d written

Emily King – ‘Distance’

“It straddles the line between beauty and funky so well. It makes you want to slow-dance and it makes you wanna cry! You’re bobbing your head, but you also want to hold somebody close while you listen.”

The song I do at karaoke

Don Henley – ‘Boys of Summer’

“It paints a picture, tells a story. It’s got those high, soaring notes. It’s not a song from my childhood, but somehow, strangely, it reminds me of mine: I guess because it’s talking about the “boys of summer“. It reminds me of middle-school summers. Maybe these idyllic summers never existed, but somehow, through this song, you’re like: ‘Hell yeah! My childhood was great!'”

The song I can’t get out of my head

Stevie Wonder – ‘Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing’

“My daughter has a love affair with the movie Sing, which is about a bunch of animals who, in order to save this theatre, do a big talent show. My daughter is in love with Meena the elephant, who is voiced by the brilliant Tori Kelly. At the end of the movie she sings a really dynamite version of the Stevie Wonder classic ‘Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing’, and we listen to that song more than any other right now in this house!”

The song I can no longer listen to

Katy Perry – ‘Firework’

“‘Firework’ was such a big hit and it was so ubiquitous. It managed to do so without having one rhyming couplet in the whole song! I love that about ‘Firework’, though: it’s breaking the cardinal rule that couplets are supposed to rhyme. They’re supposed to be poetry in that way, but ‘Firework’ said: ‘No, I’m not doing it. And I’m still going to be one of the biggest songs of all time.’ I wouldn’t be mad if I didn’t hear ‘Firework’ again because I’ve heard it enough for a lifetime.

The song I want played at my funeral

Mary Mary – ‘It Is Well’

“I hope there’s live music at my funeral — I’m not trying to go anytime soon! But if you could have somebody sing ‘It Is Well’, I’d prefer that. If there’s no-one around to sing it, or understandably doesn’t want to take it on because Mary Mary did it so well, then I would understand and they could just play it.”

The song that makes me want to dance

Coldplay – ‘Magic’

“I don’t know how that song can go on and not make you want to move, you know?”

The song that changed my life

Donny Hathaway – ‘For All We Know’

“I sang ‘For All We Know’ [about two lovers] for all my first auditions, no matter how inappropriate it was. Rent was my first show on Broadway — I was 17 when I went into that show — and it has a rock score, so [the producers] ask you to sing 16 bars of your favourite rock song [at audition]. I sang ‘For All We Know’ — and if you know Donny Hathaway’s version, that is the farthest thing from rock! Not only did [the song] change my life hearing it, but it got me those first opportunities that set me on my way, so it changed my life in that way as well.”

Leslie Odom Jr.’s new single with Sia, ‘Cold’, is out now. One Night in Miami is expected to be released in early 2021

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