Orchestrated Soul: PJ Morton Makes Music Magic During Kennedy Center Debut

“PJ, you’re not mainstream enough, yeah/Would you consider us changing some stuff/Like everything about who you are/No offense, we’re just trying to make you a star,” sings New Orleans-bred soul prodigy PJ Morton on the song “Claustrophobic” from his 2017 CD, “Gumbo.”

Jawn Murray & PJ Morton backstage at The Kennedy Center

The idea that Morton couldn’t achieve success without overhauling everything about his image and sound has been completely debunked less than two years following the release of the studio version of “Gumbo.”  The 37-year-old entertainer won his first Grammy Award for Best Traditional R&B Performance and then sold out his Valentine’s Day concert at the acclaimed The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in the same week.

How’s that for mainstream acceptance?

The autobiographical element of “Gumbo” is what Morton calls his “most-authentic self.”

“Isn’t it funny that the album I was my most-authentic self on is the won I would win a Grammy for,” he told the capacity crowd during his Kennedy Center debut.

PJ Morton performs at The Kennedy Center

A live version of the album, “Gumbo Unplugged” was released in 2018 and featured special guests Yebba, Keyon Harrold, BJ the Chicago Kid, Lecrae, and The HamilTones.

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Morton, who is also a member of the pop band Maroon 5, performed a 90-minute set with the Matt Jones Orchestra inside The Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater.

He covered most of the songs from “Gumbo,” as well as classic songs from earlier albums “Emotions,” “Walk Alone,” “Live Show Killer” and “New Orleans.”

PJ Morton performs at The Kennedy Center

The crowd sang along, almost like a church choir, on songs like Morton’s remake of the Bee Gees’ classic, “How Deep Is Your Love,” which won him his first Grammy after 12 nominations.

Morton’s father, Bishop Paul S. Morton, also joined his son for an impromptu drive on the soul-stirring “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright.”

From “My Superstar” to “First Began,” Morton held the audience in the palm of his hand and after he finished his set, they demanded an encore.

Watch Morton’s encore performance “Where Everybody Knows Your Name,” the theme song to the television show “Cheers,” below.

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