When news first broke of the shooting in Orlando, Parson James was on his way to perform at a Pride festival in New Jersey.

A gunman had opened fire in a gay nightclub killing 49 people, and James "got this weird nauseating twist in my stomach".

"I couldn't not cry ... I just kept thinking about how I was going to play a Pride festival, when these people had their lives taken away for being proud of who they are," says James.

"It was a very bittersweet, 'what the f***?' kind of thing. You think we're progressing and things are changing but the reality is, you take steps forward and there's always a step backward.


"But that doesn't mean we don't continue to fight. And after that, I don't think I've ever felt more proud of who I am."

James shot to fame when Norwegian producer Kygo remixed his track Stole the Show which became an instant hit. He is gaining traction with his gospel-inspired EP Temple, and is aiming to have his debut LP out by the end of the year. But it's been a tough road to success.

As a gay man of mixed race, James battled homophobia and racism in his South Carolina hometown and says, "I always felt wrong".

"It's that kind of 'hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil' thing - you can be gay, but if you don't talk about it or they don't see it in front of their eyes, then it's not real ... that was a pretty dark way to grow up," he says.

He describes wanting to "crawl out of my own skin", when he was only 11 or 12. It wasn't until he moved to New York and met new people that he began to embrace who he was and tell his story through music.

Now he's coming to New Zealand to put on a show at St Mary's Church, where he will perform with Auckland's LGBT choir, Gals, to raise money for the families of the victims of Orlando.

In true church style, collection buckets will be passed around and a Givealittle page will be set up, with all proceeds to go to Equality Florida, a LGBT advocacy group which is supporting the victims' families.

The pop-soul singer has close ties to New Zealand - his manager is Lorde's former manager, Scott Maclachlan. He's always been surrounded by Kiwis, was there when Lorde first started taking off, and has always wanted to visit the country which he says is "such a progressive place".

James' music is seeped in soul and gospel, because despite being at odds with religion himself, "I love the feeling, the energy and passion within gospel music".

He uses it to tell his story, and will stand with the LGBT choir to "share the stage with people that have had those same battles" to perform his music for Kiwis, and show the families in Orlando that support is coming from all over the world.

"Yeah it happened in America but it was a direct crime against a community that is spread all over the world, this is just pure hatred of people who were out celebrating with their friends and being who they are in a sanctuary," says James.

"To think that was disrupted by a person walking in and just hating people for being who they are, that could happen anywhere. This is something we all need to come together on and show how much support we have for these communities but also everyone in general."

Low down


Parson James and Gals (Gay and Lesbian Singers Auckland)


St Mary's Church, Parnell


Tuesday, July 12.