Passionate. Intimate. Emotional. These are just a few words to describe Ella Mai’s performance to the sold-out crowd at the Ogden Theatre in Denver, Colorado on May 20th.
Fans were lining up around the block before the doors opened, leaving the concert hall packed from open to close. Can you blame them, though? It’s her first headlining tour in four years.
Ella Mai originally hails from London but is far from a stranger in the U.S. She moved to New York at age 12, and after graduating high school she returned to England to study at the British and Irish Modern Music Institute London (BIMM London).
Ella Mai, full name Ella Mai Howell, was named after the great jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald. She was born to an Irish father and a Jamaican mother. Ella’s move to the U.S. was prompted by her mother landing a teaching job in New York City. It was a difficult adjustment after moving; because of her accent she faced harassment and bullying among classmates. Her lived experience is one all too familiar among artists and musicians around the world.
Run Before You Walk
The Billboard Music Award winner began her rise to fame through 15-second clips of her singing covers of popular songs. While attending school, she competed on the X Factor season 11 in 2014 as part of a trio called Arize. Although the group didn’t make it past the initial audition and eventually broke up, Ella Mai never lost sight of her dream. A year later, she uploaded a four-track EP on SoundCloud called Troubled, and she went on to sign with DJ Mustard’s label, 10 Summers Records.
Between 2016 and 2017, Ella launched a trilogy of EPs: Time in February of 2016, Change in November of that same year, and Ready in February of 2017. Her featured single from the trilogy, “Boo’d Up,” gained popularity over social media and in nightclubs for the next few months. That same song served as her bridge across the pond, earning her first top-ten title and marking a breakthrough in the star’s career. Ella’s first steps into the professional music industry had turned into leaps, with Rolling Stone crediting the title as “one of the biggest singles by a breakout female R&B singer in the past 10 years.”
Ella Mai‘s style is often compared to that of R&B artists from the ’90s, known for their iconic baby-making tunes and soulful ballads. Her single ‘Trip,’ released in 2018, peaked at number 11 on the Billboard Hot 100, and later that same year she released her self-titled album. The album contains 16 tracks featuring “Boo’d Up,” with guest appearances from Chris Brown, John Legend, and H.E.R. Ella’s style breathes fresh life into the soul itself. Her lyrical composition takes us back to that vibe of the ’90s: simple, rhythmic, but full of heart and life experiences.
The Ogden Theatre provided the perfect space for the intimate performance of hits such as “Trip” and “Boo’d Up.” The crowd sang every word in sync with Ella, and the audience became her choir. At one point, Ella lowered the mic with a smile from ear to ear as the mile-high city belted our hearts out in support. It was a special few moments as the crowd shared the light with the star.
Ella Mai and her band are bringing everything they’ve got for each leg of the Heart on my Sleeve Tour. Breathing life into their live set, Ella Mai bears her heart for us as we do for her. It’s a shame the ride had to end so soon, but there’s no doubt that Denver loves Ella Mai.
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