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PJ Morton brings musical healing — and R&B — back to New Orleans

R&B artist PJ Morton is nominated in two Grammy categories for his latest album,
R&B artist PJ Morton is nominated in two Grammy categories for his latest album, "Gumbo."
Chris Granger

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With the Grammy Awards just around the corner, The Frame is turning the spotlight on nominees in various categories.

PJ Morton is probably best known for playing keyboards with hitmakers Maroon 5 and for his work as music director on Solange’s 2016 album, “A Seat at the Table." His latest album, “Gumbo,” is nominated in the best R&B album category and his track, “First Began,” is up for best R&B song.

Morton has had a prolific solo career, but "Gumbo" marks one of his most topical, but also personal, works to date. He takes the opportunity to reflect on a host of issues, from identity to religion, and discusses why he decided to return to New Orleans after being away for nearly 15 years.


Interview Highlights:

On how being raised in the church influenced his musical style:

Church was fun for me growing up. My father is very musical, my family is very musical, our church was very musical. I felt like it was the best training ground in the world because I would [go from] a Calypso gospel song to a Reggae gospel song to a traditional gospel song. It really taught me to play all different types of music. And it was so much fun. My friend's were there — my drummer, who's still on tour with me now, has been playing with me in church since we were kids.

On the song, "Religion," and speaking out against certain evangelical groups:

This subject has been in my life for a long time. But it was pushed during the Trump presidency. And I saw that some people — evangelicals, in particular — were putting their religion over mistreatment of people. You can't be so blind to the letter that you miss the whole point, which is love. We're supposed to be known by our love. So if it feels divisive and it feels evil, then that's probably not it.

On leaving New Orleans as a teenager and why he chose to return recently:

I've always loved New Orleans and I've always worn it as a badge of honor. But I had to get out of there after high school. I wasn't a traditional jazz musician, I wasn't a rapper. I was this soulful pop dude in New Orleans who wanted to write songs and be on the radio and there wasn't infrastructure there at the time — still not — which is why I'm back to create some of this. We've always had the talent, the charm and the creativity, but there's never been someone to package it up and export our charm. We've always had to leave. You can go as far back as Louis Armstrong to the Marsalises to Harry Connick Jr. The list goes on and on of people who had to leave to find prominence. 


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