08.12.2013 - Sitting down on the rooftop of the Thompson Hotel in Beverly Hills with Landau Eugene Murphy Jr., I am immediately taken by his enthusiasm. Before saying anything else the jazz singer mentions how beautiful the weather is and takes a moment to admire the view. Landau is smiling cheek-to-cheek soaking in the afternoon sunshine and just seems so ridiculously…happy. The winner of America’s Got Talent clearly is not jaded by fame.
Originally from a small town in West Virginia, raised in Detroit, Landau Murphy has a great understanding of humble beginnings. Murphy, now thirty-nine, spent most of his life struggling to make ends meet and jumping from job to job. While in Detroit he worked at a car wash and after losing that job due to injury Murphy lived in his car for a while; as he puts it “I would sleep in this car under the bridge…fortunately for me God gave me enough talent, so I would cut hair and do things like that to keep gas in my car so I could turn the heat on when it was cold…I slept under bridges…and tried to find out where my next meal was coming from…and if I needed to take a shower I would just go play video games with my buddies…”
After facing homelessness in Detroit, Landau Murphy moved back to his original home in Logan, West Virginia where he reunited with his high school sweetheart, Jennifer Carter and the two married in 2005. During this time Landau was singing at charity events and small gigs at restaurants; he says that he was just singing to pay the bills at the time, but still, just barely affording to live. Even when he and his wife were hardly affording to live, the two would decline payment when they performed at some charity events because they believe that helping others is always more important than helping themselves. Landau explained to me how service to others was always his top priority: “a lot of times they tried to pay me, but my heart was telling me ‘no’…they need it more”.
While Landau performed just enough to barely get by, times got even harder in 2010 when Landau’s home was robbed and virtually everything that he owned was taken from him. He describes the robbery as being “cleaned out” and says “they took all the clothes…all the furniture…they took the copper out of the walls”, leaving him and his wife with literally nothing. Landau explains that this was rock bottom for him and he was “down to absolutely zero again”, which felt like a reoccurring cycle for him; while he couldn’t understand why this was all happening, he was looking for a sign to tell him what to do next. After the robbery Landau was sitting on his bed at his mother-in-law’s house questioning what his next step in life should be:
“I thought to myself ‘I’m thirty-five years old, married…what am I going to do? You know, I was thinking of all kinds of crazy things…things that would get me locked up eventually…and I’m sitting there and then God spoke to me in plain English and said “Son all you need is a bigger stage”. I wondered what that meant and then I got this cold chill over my body and right at that moment Howie Mandel came on my TV screen and asked “Are you the next winner of America’s Got Talent?” So I went right into my mother-in-law’s bedroom and signed up on the Internet…to audition for the show.”
Landau went on to explain that when he went in to try out for America’s Got Talent he was literally down to his last everything; because of the robbery Landau was wearing the only clothes he owned on the day that he auditioned. All he wanted at the time was the opportunity to work and make enough money to support himself and his wife: “All I was thinking about was just getting on the TV show…I thought if I could just make that first audition and make it on the show someone will call me to sing at a restaurant or a cruise ship.” Landau says that his goal was to simply get his name “out there” so that small businesses might hire him to perform…he was just looking for work.
Landau’s wholesome and humble intentions ended up opening the gateway to a life that he never suspected he would have. Shortly after his audition, Landau’s wife received a call from the studio telling them that Landau would be on the show. Mrs. Murphy thought the phone-call was a joke and hung up. After the studio called back and confirmed that Landau did, in fact, make it to the first round his life was never the same. After surviving round after round of the show, Landau eventually was deemed the winner of America’s Got Talent’s 6th Season in 2011. He received a grand prize of $1 million and was signed with Columbia Records and Sony Records. Landau believes that everything happens for a reason and says that if he hadn’t been robbed and left with nothing, he wouldn’t have had the need or motivation to audition for the show; but the desperate times called for a desperate measure, which lead him to a flourishing music career. Landau produced his first record That’s Life with Steve Tyrell in 2011; the album debuted in the Billboard 200 and was ranked #1 in the Billboard Jazz chart.
Landau is currently on tour promoting his jazz album and tells me that he always knew that this was the genre of music for him. Landau says that he had been listening to classics and ‘oldies but goodies’ since he was a kid and would hear this type of music in Looney Tunes cartoons and daytime TV shows. Landau says that he picked jazz for many reasons - mostly regarding the message being sent to listeners. He believes that hip-hop and rap music insults people and explains that so many people love these songs but if you actually listen to the lyrics, they are all demeaning, degrading put-downs. Landau says that he wanted to perform “blue-sky, puffy-cloud music”, the kind that is uplifting, puts people in a good mood and makes them feel good about themselves. Landau found that kind of power to influence others with jazz. He goes on to say that in addition to the mainstream genres, hip-hop and rap, sending negative messages, these types of music are all so saturated with artists that it can be difficult for anyone to find his or her voice in it. “How can you find your own lane in all this traffic?”, Landau says as he emphasizes how jazz pulled him aside from the massive crowd of singer-hopefuls he had to compete with.
Even after Landau Murphy established his unique voice in and made a name for himself in the industry, he never let the attention change the beliefs he has always had in his heart. Landau says that going out in the middle of the day can get hectic because he always spends time to talk to every single fan that approaches him. He says this is a mandated standard for him because he feels like “the world is responsible” for him winning the show. Landau explains that his fans took the time out of their days to vote for him when he was on America’s Got Talent and without them, he wouldn’t have anything. The humble singer says that without an audience there is simply no show, so he will always give all of his fans the gratitude that they deserve for their support.
After hearing his story, I am so taken by Landau’s humility, strength, and integrity that I almost cannot believe this man. But of course, actions speak volumes louder than words. Landau preaches about how people need to be treated with respect and manners and gratitude and then I witness him act accordingly. After the interview I attend his performance at the Catalina Jazz Club in Hollywood, where he performs all of the songs from his album, That’s Life in celebration of his thirty-ninth birthday. Not only is his voice silky smooth and outstanding, but his presence lingers even after he leaves the stage. The audience, including myself, is moved by the astonishing jazz performance where Landau sings a duet with his wife and even cracks jokes and tells stories in between the songs. His energy radiates through the hall and makes every single one of us feel ignited with happiness. Landau’s performance is mesmerizing, and the way he carries himself is noteworthy, but when I see Landau and his wife stay in the hall after the show to spend time with every single fan, I knew, with absolute certainty that this guy was genuine and meant every word he preached to me earlier. As I watch Mr. and Mrs. Murphy sincerely enjoy signing endless autographs and taking infinite pictures, I realize that not everyone who is exposed to the fame of Hollywood deviates from their virtues and principles.
I look at the singer and it’s so hard to believe that just a few years ago the man was sleeping in his car in Detroit, and now he is headlining shows at some of the biggest venues in the world, living a life that most only ever dream of. The chain of events that got him here is astonishing, somewhat miraculous, but then again, that’s life.