Leslie Odom Jr., who plays Aaron Burr in Hamilton, is not planning on letting this moment fade. Sunday (June 12), Odom won his first Tony, for best actor in a leading role in a musical — just one of Hamilton’s 11 wins (icing on its reported $60 million box-office gross). Just two days prior, the Broadway/TV veteran (Smash, CSI: Miami) dropped his self-titled debut album on S-Curve Records. The standards- and cabaret-filled project has been in the works for a while, says the New York native, 34. “I was clear about what to parlay Hamilton into. When people asked me what was next, I said, ‘Music.’ ” Billboard spoke to Odom Jr. before his Tony win about making his own music and preparing for his “once-in-a-lifetime moment” at the Tonys.
What do you want people to feel while listening to this album?
Empathy. Growing up, I’d only ever heard women sing [1956 standard] “The Party’s Over.” But for me, it felt like something I’d sing to my 12-year-old daughter after her first heartbreak. What can I offer that might comfort her and provide encouragement?
What do you remember about the first time you heard the music for Hamilton?
It was the most contemporary score I’d ever heard. The greatest singers used to cover songs from the theater — like Louis Armstrong singing “Hello Dolly.” Everybody in theater longs for a return to that day, but nobody could crack it. Lin-Manuel [Miranda, Hamilton’s creator and star] did. He found a way to make popular music theatrical.
What has been the most surreal moment of Hamilton’s success so far?
We did a private concert at the White House. There’s part of you that wants to geek out, but the thing I love about this cast is that we do the same performance for third graders as we do for the president. We do the same work.
How are you preparing for the Tonys?
This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing, and I treat it like that. As a black actor, I don’t know how many more roles like Burr are going to come along. When I graduated from college, a part like this hadn’t been invented. Is it going to take 15 or 20 more years for another one?
Contracts are up for much of Hamilton’s cast in July. Some, including Miranda, are reportedly leaving. What’s next for you?
I will probably extend a little longer after my contract is finished. After that, I’m looking forward to touring, but also fitting in time for rest — a little more than we have right now!
A version of this article originally appeared in the June 18 issue of Billboard.