Leon Bridges went from washing dishes in Fort Worth, Texas, to a Grammy nomination in about two years. You might think you know what to do with a story that sounds too good to be true, but the 26-year old soul revivalist deserves to get a word in.
His platform is the 2016 Grammys, and though the prize he’s nominated for — best R&B album — won’t be awarded on air, Bridges’ rise to stardom will be told in a Squarespace commercial debuting in the live CBS telecast. Directed by iconic photographer Danny Clinch, the ad blasted Bridges back to the tiny Fort Worth venue where he was discovered. Only during the shoot did Bridges realize the full scope of Clinch’s career; doubt if you want, but these stories are hard to make up.
“There’s people out there who still think that the label just put together an ultimate retro soul/R&B star,” Bridges confides in Billboard, calling in from L.A. during the pre-Grammy festivities. “Of course I didn’t come out of the womb dressing like this, but this started three years ago and I would love this style and this style of music if I never even picked up a guitar.”
But it’s a good thing he did. After a couple years of studying dance at a local community college, Bridges shifted his focus to writing and performing music. “I was playing at the Magnolia Motor Lounge every Tuesday night for almost two years. I was bussing tables at this little Tex-Mex restaurant. I’d get off work — sometimes in my uniform — and go play there. And one Tuesday night, Austin Jenkins happens to walk in.”
Jenkins is a former guitarist of the Texan rock band White Denim, who is signed to Downtown Records, an imprint under the Sony umbrella along with Columbia. Bridges wowed him so much he suggested they cut a track together. “Coming Home” was placed on SoundCloud; in June 2015, it became the lead song and title track of Bridges’ debut long-player. Less than six months later, it was nominated for best R&B album at the 2016 Grammys.
“I didn’t even expect to get nominated,” Bridges says, “I definitely think D’Angelo is going to take it home.”
In a way, Bridges has already won. Nomination aside, the 60-second version of Bridges’ story is being broadcasted to the Grammy-viewing masses, under the direction of a master like Clinch, whom Bridges calls “the most humble photographer” he’s ever met. “I knew of him a little bit but I didn’t know all the people he’d worked with. When we were shooting and at one point he pulled out his book… there’s Nas and Jay Z, all those heavy cats.”
And of course, the admiration is mutual.
“Leon is a complete natural,” Clinch (this year’s official Grammy photographer) tells Billboard via e-mail. “He began as a dancer and therefore he knows how to present himself to the camera. And though he’s personally somewhat shy and very humble, he is also a performer and that’s always great for a collaboration.”
A month later, Bridges will release another Squarespace project — this one a short documentary called This Is Home. It will cover his first year on the road, but like the ad, it will bring him back to Fort Worth before all is said and done. Only now, a more well-traveled Bridges has favorite vintage shops (like Decades in Salt Lake City, Utah) to go with Texas haunts like Dolly Python. He’s an inspiration to every out-of-place, creative dreamer and improbable as his story is, it’s only our loss to doubt it.
Check out the complete Squarespace ad below before it makes its television premiere at the 2016 Grammys: