Roberta Levine on February 4, 2016
Landau Eugene Murphy Jr. has invoked Frank Sinatra more than once to sing his way through adversity. As a West Virginia boy transplanted to the violent streets of Detroit, where, he says, “you could lose your life in a fight on a basketball court,” he’d calm down his buddies by singing Fly Me to the Moon. ”They would bust out laughing,” he says. “They thought it was hilarious.”
Landau thought it was a gift. Years later, after he had waited 16 hours for the chance to do his first real audition, he again looked to Ol’ Blue Eyes. “Everyone expected that I would do Motown or Hip Hop,” he says. “I chose Frank Sinatra.”
His performance of I’ve Got You Under My Skin —after he joked with judge Howie Mandel and removed his chewing gum at the curt suggestion of Piers Morgan – was a slam dunk. “My biggest fear was making West Virginia look bad,” he says. Far from it: Landau went on to make his home state proud by winning the 2011 for America’s Got Talent.
“That’s what I wanted; to let the world see something good out of here.”
Landau, now 41, grew up singing and dancing in the living room, competing with his siblings to be the best in what he considers his first auditions. His first 12 years were in Logan, a small town in southern West Virginia, where, he says, he was “the only black kid in class and the only black culture I got was Lionel Ritchie.”
When his parents split up, he moved with his mom to Detroit, where the racial balance “was the exact opposite. But then there were gangs and riots to deal with,” he says; “I had to adapt. I had to maintain my sanity.” He adds, “I’m glad I was shifted around like that so I could embrace both cultures.”
Wherever he was, he immersed himself in whatever great music was available – from Gospel, the big band soundtracks in Tom and Jerry cartoons and the operatic spoofing of Bugs Bunny, to Cyndi Lauper and Nat King Cole, Michael Jackson and John Cougar Mellencamp; even Boy George. In Detroit, he got into Hip Hop and skipped school to watch rehearsals of the Detroit Symphony.
Pre- AGT, Landau was in Logan, detailing cars. At the audition, before he opened his mouth to sing, he told the judges, “I’ve washing thousands and thousands of cars. I’ve been up to here in bubbles.”
Now, back in Logan, in between numerous gigs and performances all over the nation with his “crazy, fantastic band” (all from West Virginia), he’s started a record label, Doonie Tunes Music Baller, with his son Marcus. He’s writing his own material. “I want to add myself to the Great American Songbook,” he says.
Growing up in two cultures gave him life lessons that he wants to share; getting national recognition has given him a platform to reach out. “I think the whole good and bad together saved me, having to be strong enough and being tough” he says. “I want to inspire kids to believe in themselves, to be who you are.”
Landau will be performing at the JCC’s Big Night on April 2! “The show will be spontaneous and energetic,” he says. Don’t miss it!
Learn more and purchase tickets for JCC 2016 Big Night
Cover photo of Landau Eugene Murphy Jr. provided by Marty Conley Photography