Soul just a part of the Ro James sound

The R&B singer, who performed at a VIP reception sponsored by Ford, talked on a range of subjects, from past and current influences to resolutions for the new year

Felecia D. Henderson
The Detroit News

Detroit — Don’t label singer Ro James neo-soul. The Jamaica, Queens, New Yorker doesn’t want his music put in a box. Simply put, he is a soulful singer who’s been influenced by pop, rock and country.

R&B singer Ro James performed “Permission” and other songs Sunday at the UAW-Ford National Programs Center in Detroit.

James performed Sunday night in Detroit at the VIP reception sponsored by Ford Motor Co. that kicked off media preview week at the North American International Auto Show.

The 29-year-old son of Panamanian parents was born in Stuttgart, Germany, and has lived all over the world and U.S. as his father served in the military and is a pastor. After working on his music career for 10 years, he landed a deal with ByStorm Entertainment/RCA Records and scored his first hit in April 2016 with “Permission,” which peaked at No. 12 on Billboard’s Hot R&B song chart. One month later, his 13-track album “Eldorado” was released, entering the Billboard Hip-Hop/R&B Albums chart at No. 8. A car aficionado, the disc was named after the make of his first car, a 1992 Cadillac Eldorado.

James, who’s opened for Mary J. Blige, Maxwell, Joe and Chrisette Michele, talked to the media about a number of topics, from his influences and personal style to resolutions for 2018:

Q: Who are your biggest inspirations?

James: I have a lot of people who I admire. Artistwise? My dad (Ronald) sings, so he was the first person who was my inspiration. He’s a family man, he took care of us and made sure we had God first, he told us we (he and his brother) could do anything we wanted to do, and he sings, too. Also Prince, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding.

Who in today’s music do you appreciate and listen to?

A lot of these are my friends: SZA, Daniel Caesar, Luke James, BJ The Chicago Kid, Miguel. I feel like this is a great time in music for R&B. For a long time, R&B was asleep, people weren’t really embracing it, it was a hip-hop world or it was super pop. Now everyone is coming back to R&B because everyone is trying to be individuals, be who they are.

How would you describe your personal style?

My personal style is individual, being myself. I don’t have a stylist, never had a stylist... I do me. That’s important because dress is a resemblance of your personality. One day I may wake up and want to wear flannel; I may feel good today and want to put on a suit. I may want to put on boots or I may want to put on some Tims (Timberlands). I’m working on my own brand of clothes — 19, which represents the beginning of my journey. (The number symbolizes his birthday, Nov. 19, as well as the age when he wrote his first song, when his influential grandmother died, his first love and first heartbreak).

What makes a Detroit audience so special?

I was so scared to play Detroit (he’s performed here three times). I always heard the Detroit market was so tough... home of the Motown Sound. But I was embraced, and it was great.

What’s the next project?

I’m working right now, trying to finish up by Feb. 1 for March (release), a new album “Romantic MP3.”

Did you make any New Year’s resolutions?

To focus on myself more this year. For the last couple of years I focused on a lot of people... so focus on myself, get back to working out every day, meditate, pray, making sure that I focus my energy, making sure I have the right energies around me, making sure that I'm getting to my greater self. You'll see that in the album coming out.