Growing up, singer/songwriter Emily King travelled regularly with her older brother and parents, jazz singers Marion Cowings and Kim Kalesti, and gained a taste for life on the road.

"What did I like best about it? The hamburgers! Free food is always good and we got to go to places like the Bahamas," she jokes on the phone from Manhattan.

"I liked the way my parents told a story through their songs and I could see people genuinely being affected by it. I knew that emotional connection was important and wanting to be part of that was what got me started."

The New York native toyed with the idea of being a doctor or a veterinarian but quickly decided music was where her future lay.

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King left school at 16 to pursue her music career and now, 14 years on, her debut album, East Side Story, has been nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary R&B album, she has toured with John Legend and Floetry and opened for acts as varied as Chaka Khan and Maroon 5.

Now she comes here for the first time to perform two shows at the Auckland Arts Festival. Her music is described as existing "where the cafe meets the dancefloor" - understated pop and soul.

"I'm coming with [fellow musician] Jaime Woods to do a stripped down set with guitar and harmonies so it's going to be very organic and a natural, fun set."

King met AAF music programme manager Tama Waipara a few years ago in New York when she sang background vocals for him.

"Tama was going to school in New York and I was brought in to the recording studio to do some work with him," she recalls. "We just hit it off because he's a warm-hearted person and we had a lot of fun. I'm excited to see him and I'm excited to come to New Zealand for the first time."