Landau Eugene Murphy Jr brings the American Songbook to the Pocahontas Opera House
Marlinton, W.Va. –
Music – “Baby It’s Cold Outside”
That’s Landau Eugene Murphy Jr and Judith Hill singing a classic from the Great American Songbook, “Baby It’s Cold Outside”. He’s played in Vegas and the legendary Apollo theatre, and recorded his first album at the historic Capital “B” studio in LA. But this month, he’ll be performing a few Christmas season concerts starting with a sold out show at the Pocahontas Opera House on December 13th. Old time musician Homer Hunter will be the opening act.
Though he’s been the toast of the talk shows, Murphy comes from humble beginnings in Logan, West Virginia, where he was born and raised until his parents divorced and his family made a momentous move to Detroit.
“My moved me and my brothers and sisters to Detroit,” says Murphy. “We had to adapt to a new life, a whole totally different lifestyle overnight.”
He says it wasn’t an easy transition to make.
“Your coming from little Logan, West Virginia and moving to Detroit which at the time was like the height of the crack era, gangs and all this stuff that was going on when I moved there; I moved there in 1985,” he says. “Imagine being a 10 or 11 year old kid and moving from the small town of Logan to Detroit.”
“It was kinda rough, but I picked the right paths; I tried to stay out of the way when I seen bad stuff happening, I moved to a different spot. A lot of times I just stayed in church playing basketball and going to youth meetings and things like that, that kept me off the streets.”
Murphy credits his mom for keeping him and siblings in the church and off the rough streets of Detroit. To say the move was a bit of a culture shock would be an understatement, especially for a young African American man who up until that point, had lived in small, largely white town.
“It’s weird when I say this, but it’s so true all of my best friends was white,” he says, laughing. “And when I moved to Detroit everything was all black around me. I’d never seen so many black people driving up and down the street in my life; that was the big culture shock for me.”
“I mean coming from a black male, that’s really weird to say, but I am from West Virginia and the closest black people around me were cousins and family. When I moved to the city, my whole neighborhood was black; there was maybe two white people in my neighborhood.”
His West Virginia accent attracted the girls even while bringing derision from the boys. And while he admits to getting in a scuffle or two, he says he mostly held his own and tried to stay out of trouble. He was surprised at the level of racism he experienced in Detroit.
“To me it was more like black on black racism,” says Murphy. “There were certain blocks that I couldn’t walk down because I wasn’t from that neighborhood and to me that’s racist. Down here, you’ve got a lot of white-black racism, white on white racism; it’s just everywhere. I just think we all need to understand we’re all here together and when we die we can’t take none of this stuff with us.”
Murphy came back home to Logan, in the late 1990’s. Once back he reconnected with childhood friend Jennifer Carter; they married in 2005. It was also in Logan that he experienced one of the lowest points in his life. One night while he and his wife were taking care of her hospitalized mother, someone broke into their home.
“They took all my clothes, all the furniture, the copper out of my walls, washer, dryer, just everything, all the way to my shoes and socks,” he says. “You know I had nothing left so I was at a point in my life where what was I supposed to do, just let go or tie a knot in the end of my rope.”
For him, tying a knot in his rope meant overcoming his reluctance to pursue a career in the entertainment business, despite seeing so many of his idols suffer from the consequences of celebrity. But he says he got encouragement from a higher source.
“And I was asking God what am I going to do, what can I do to better my life’,” he says. “And He instantly told me I needed a bigger stage; and I was like what do you mean? And right at that moment, Howie Mandel came right across the TV screen, asking those questions; Are you the next winner of America’s Got Talent? Do you have what it takes to headline a show in Las Vegas?’ And I was like wow, that’s the stage! That’s the stage I need to go on.”
Murphy and his wife traveled to New York in November of 2010 in pursuit of that bigger stage via the America’s Got Talent competition. He specializes in standards, generally defined as popular music of the 1940’s and 50’s before rock and roll took over the music scene.
“The freedom of being myself while I’m singing it and not degrading anybody, that’s what I love about the great American songbook,” says Murphy. “The thousands and thousands of great songs that doesn’t degrade anybody; it doesn’t talk under your clothe, it doesn’t pick on you or make you feel less of a woman or a man; it’s just good music – blue sky, puffy cloud music.”
Murphy says he hopes to leave his own mark on the great American songbook. For those lucky Opera House ticket holders, experiencing the thrill of his voice is just a few days away. For the rest of us, we’ll just have to be content with listening to his first album “That’s Life”.