Like almost all other musicians hit with the neo-soul and retro-soul tags, the primary inspirations of singer and songwriter Leela James are classic artists who arrived no later than the early ’70s. Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan, and Tina Turner were among the vocalists to whom the gritty-voiced Los Angeles, California native was likened. After James was showcased on an uplifting track off Pete Rock‘s Soul Survivor II, “No Tears,” she made her proper debut on Warner Bros. with a throwback-oriented set titled A Change Is Gonna Come (2005). Featuring a cover of Sam Cooke‘s song of the same title, as well as one of No Doubt‘s “Don’t Speak,” the album involved assistance from major figures including Kanye West, Raphael Saadiq, James Poyser, and Chucky Thompson. It entered the Billboard 200 at number 148 and was followed with an appearance on Ray Charles‘ posthumous Genius & Friends, as well as nominations for Soul Train Music and NAACP Image awards.
After splitting from Warner Bros., the singer landed on the roster of Shanachie and recorded one of the label’s more inspired all-covers sets, Let’s Do It Again (2009). The same year, she contributed to “Walk with Me,” a highlight on Moby‘s Wait for Me album. The singer switched to Stax for My Soul (2010), which featured some of her own songwriting and peaked in Billboard’s R&B/hip-hop Top Ten. A return to Shanachie yielded Loving You More…In the Spirit of Etta James (2012), a release more adventurous than the title indicated. She switched to J&T for her fifth album, Fall for You (2014), home to her three highest-charting Hot Adult R&B tracks, such as the Anthony Hamilton duet “Say That.” Around the same time, James began a two-season stint on the reality television series R&B Divas: Los Angeles. Did It for Love (2017), James‘ BMG-supported sixth album, offered her most refined mix of vintage and contemporary sounds to that point.