Eddie Wakes performs at The Usual Place
Eddie Wakes has lived the life that screenwriters dream of. An acclaimed, evocative crooner, Eddie specializes in the Great American Songbook—popular early-20th-century songs, jazz standards and show tunes made famous by artists like Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole.
Born the 8th of 9 boys to parents who were raised in the Jim Crow south, the Kansas-reared singer grew up in the church, where his father’s powerful voice drew admiration from many, including jazz legend Lionel Hampton. “To go through that experience and have music as a means of expression really honed an amazing gift that [my father] had. He transferred that to his sons,” Eddie, 56, says.
Now living in Las Vegas, Eddie shares the gift during “Boundless,” a concert on Tuesday, Aug. 16 at The Usual Place. It will be his first performance in Las Vegas since moving here five years ago.
“It will be a transcendent experience with great arrangements and songs to give those familiar a sense of nostalgia, and for the young people to give them a sense of nostalgia they’ve never experienced,” Eddie promises.
The American Songbook spoke to Eddie more than any other genre.
“Everyone else was chasing Motown. I felt this music resonated more with who I am as an artist,” he says. “It’s intelligent, it’s elegant. It’s a way to interact with jazz and blues and soul and country and Latin. All those forms can be expressed with beautiful symphonics. It’s like a big ballet of interaction and choreography. We dance with the string section, the horn section. And the singer gets to express the signature of their soul.”
Eddie’s path to Las Vegas was a windy one. He followed in his father’s footsteps as a singer in high school, joining traveling national youth group Up with People at 18. That experience led to a performance during the Super Bowl 20 halftime show and a concert with Linda Ronstadt in Las Vegas. After touring with the group, he came home to Topeka, KS but didn’t think being a full-time musician was a possibility. It wasn’t until he was 29 that he tried his hand at music again, inspired by a dream of him visiting new places. It turned out to be a premonition.
Eddie made the move to Nashville and started recording. Soon, he was receiving interested from record execs like Clive Davis and being recruited by Disney to work on the stage production of The Lion King. He made famous friends along the way, like Morgan Freeman and Jamie Foxx, who both urged Eddie to move to LA. When he arrived in LA, the friend he was supposed to stay with flaked, so he was forced to live in his car while performing on the streets. That turned out to be a blessing. He was earning $1,500 a week performing on Santa Monica’s 3rd Street Promenade. That’s where he met two then-college students, filmmaker Damien Chazelle and composer Justin Hurwitz, who wanted him to work on their school film project.
That film, 2009’s “Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench,” would be the precursor for Damien and Justin’s most celebrated work: 2016’s award-winning “La La Land.” Eddie was not only on the soundtrack (“Silent Night”), he was a featured performer in the film.
“An agent told me that the secret to success in this business is to know to dance when the music starts playing. So when La La Land went big, I started doing the steps,” Eddie says. He hasn’t missed a beat since.
With his roots now in Vegas, Eddie wants to take his show on the road.
“Now that Ray Charles is gone, Nat King Cole is gone, there’s not really anyone who’s Black doing this genre,” he says. “I want to reinforce the idea of our heritage and the American songbook.” #HumansOfDTLV