Music

Soul music's icons bow down to King

by Baye McNeil

Special To The Japan Times

In 2011, consummate music curator Questlove tweeted how impressed he was by the debut EP from Minneapolis-based soul trio King. And according to its members — twin sisters Paris and Amber Strother and their friend Anita Bias — the compliment took them from obscurity to fame “overnight.”

The trio’s audience had consisted mainly of family and friends, but soon its fan base expanded to include such musical heavyweights as Stevie Wonder and Erykah Badu. The artist who would take them under his wing, however, was music icon Prince.

Speaking to The Japan Times while in Tokyo for a show, the women’s pain over Prince’s recent death was palpable, but their praise was plentiful.

It was “his confidence in us, his encouragement to keep being ourselves authentically, and to keep making and putting out music,” says Amber, recalling the role Prince played as King’s mentor. “We had his support but he also gave us the autonomy to make what we wanted to make because he liked our sound.”

That sound, a mixture of R&B and dream pop, won over musicians and critics alike. Paris writes, records and arranges King’s music, while Amber and Anita harmonize to create an original groove. The tracks “Hey” and “Supernatural,” from the group’s “We Are King” release, bring to mind acts like Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band and Earth, Wind and Fire — both of whom are difficult to pigeonhole into a genre.

“I think coming out of the gate with the support of someone so amazing and major really kind of set the tone for us,” Paris says of this “ultimate stamp of approval” from Prince.

With King’s first trip to Japan now over (the three women mentioned being manga fans, citing “Food Wars!: Shokugeki no Soma” as a favorite), the trio heads into a big summer. Wonder recently announced King will join him and Pharrell Williams in London in July.

“We’d met Stevie recently,” Anita says. “He came to our LA Show, he was a fan of the music. He came to us afterward, had some kind words and we got to hang out. It was just one of those situations where you meet people and connect with them on a musical level, and that led the way to us joining his tour.”

Prince is gone, but it’s exciting to see King, a talented group he helped nurture, carry on his legacy.

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