Andrew Gilbert Andrew Gilbert | June 6, 2019 | People Galleries and Performance Music National
Vocalist Branden James (left) with musical partner and husband cellist James Clark.
Vocalist Branden James and cellist James Clark might look like they stepped right off of a gay wedding cake, but their effortless glamour and exquisite music didn’t emerge fully baked. The pair’s pop-meets-classical act, which amplifies the music’s swooning romance with the frisson of their recent nuptials, is the result of dogged trial and error.
Australian-born Clark was finishing a master’s degree in music performance at California State University Long Beach’s Bob Cole Conservatory of Music when he first connected with James, who had earned national attention as a finalist on season 8 of America’s Got Talent. Their romance preceded their musical partnership, which started with a collaboration on a sumptuous version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”
“People were really moved by it, and it felt like our connection was very natural and came from an organic place,” James said on a recent phone interview, with Clark sharing the line. Without much planning, James decided to bring his boyfriend along to an engagement in Santa Fe, though the instrumentation wasn’t a natural fit for the gig. “I showed up at a piano bar with a cellist,” the singer recalls. “We put the arrangements together on the spot, and it was so pleasantly surprising. We were even taking requests.”
James and Clark have continued to hone their material while sharing stages with high-profile artists such as Rita Moreno, Neil Sedaka and Loretta Devine. They earned glowing reviews for their recent debut at Feinstein’s/54 Below in New York City and will play their first Bay Area shows as headliners at Feinstein’s at the Nikko June 28 and 29.
The musicians initially planned to present their popular show focusing on Broadway fare, “but, once we saw that it was Pride weekend, we decided to do something more in keeping with the festivities,” Clark says. The show, All You Need Is Love, centers on their most swooningly romantic material, with some stories about their relationship thrown in the mix. “We’re really good at making people cry,” James says. “And some people find us funny.” “Funny looking,” Clark chimes in.
'Despite their evident chemistry and ease in each other’s company, James and Clark faced considerable pressure not to put their careers in the same basket. “When we started to get more serious, everyone was telling us, ‘Don’t mix pleasure and business,’” Clark says. “But Branden and I are really good friends. If we weren’t romantically involved we’d still love hanging out. Offstage, we usually introduce ourselves as James and Branden for a little separation from our lives as performers.”
Whatever you call them, the duo delivers a delectable helping of emotionally turbo-charged pop music set in the key of Pride. Tickets $40-$70, Feinstein’s at the Nikko, 222 Mason St.
Originally published in the June issue of San Francisco
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Photography by: Feinstein’s at the Nikko