The singer Anthony Hamilton, who headlines the second and final day of the Austin Urban Music Festival on Saturday, is known for music recalling the soul and R&B glory days of the ‘70s. And he has no problem with that. Hamilton, a native of Charlotte, N.C., recently drew new attention after his duet with newcomer Elayna Boynton on the song "Freedom" was featured in the Quentin Tarantino movie "Django Unchained." Hamilton’s fifth and latest studio album, "Back to Love," released at the end of 2011, deserves the raves it’s won for its old-school appeal and romantic vibe, not to mention the singer’s smooth, heartfelt vocals, passion for his craft and general oomph.
Hamilton, 42, is married and the father of six sons (half of whom are under the age of 3). We spoke him recently by phone.
Austin360: You grew up singing in the choir in your church and high school in Charlotte, N.C. Do you have a musical background in your family?
Anthony Hamilton: My dad. He sang in a group called the Showstoppers in Charlotte, and they almost got signed to Motown. They met up with a rep, and my dad was telling me that they didn’t believe he was a real rep, and so they never went to the meeting, or never followed up on that end, and come to find out that the guy was real.
How old were you when you decided music was something to pursue as a profession?
From the womb, man, I’ve been in love with it. As a child I always said, "I’m going to be a famous singer." I just knew it. It’s crazy. I guess God whispered to me, "You know, you’re going to be a famous singer."
What inspires you musically?
Life. I’ve been through a lot. I’ve been through some stuff that wasn’t as bright and colorful as I’d have wanted it to be, but it added character, and I’ve been through some good things. I’ve seen a lot on both ends.
Are there any singers in particular that influenced your style?
Wow, so many. I love Al Green, how he delivers. Bobby Womack. Aretha Franklin, her soul is just undeniable. Joe Cocker, somebody who could just bleed a song out like that. Also, I love Sting, I love the way he does, it’s almost like reggae influence. I love hip-hop, Kanye West, all the clever stuff. I’m just a sponge.
A lot of people say your music is a throwback to the soul music of the ‘70s – mind you, that’s not meant as an insult. Would you agree?
Absolutely. You know, it’s a compliment to be compared to Teddy Pendergrass and those guys. I’ll take that any day. I’d rather be called that than Milli Vanilli.
How did it come about that you performed a duet for the soundtrack of ‘Django Unchained’?
The co-writer and producer of the song, Kelvin Wooten, is a great friend of mine and one of my all-time favorite producers (Wooten produced three songs on "Back to Love"). He was actually developing Elayna Boynton and played me the song, and I loved it. He put me on it (and) a month or so after that I heard the noise about it being wanted for the movie. Quentin Tarantino loved it. He’s a big fan of mine. He told me himself.
I assume you’ve seen the movie?
I’ve seen it a few times, and I’m going to see it a few more. Actually, I’m going to buy it as soon as it’s available.
About six years ago you played a singer in the movie ‘American Gangster.’ Are you still interested in pursuing acting, or are you going to stick to singing and performing?
I’m very much interested in pursuing acting. I think finding that one role that just blows people’s minds and doesn’t dilute who I am as a musician would be ideal for me. So I’m looking forward to getting back into a movie.
There’s a lot of acting that you do in your singing. I’m thinking of one in particular (‘Pray For Me’), where you’re praying to God to get you back together with your lady after you done her wrong.
That was actually co-written. It was coming not only from one man, (but) four men’s perspectives, four men who lost due to their own negligence, or just lost love, period.
You really get the listener to believe it.
I’ve been there! So I know what it felt like.
I know you’re a religious person, you’re very much into setting a positive example, and sometimes you give advice to your audience on how to be a good husband, a good father and so forth. Does that translate into wanting to make music with a positive, uplifting vibe?
It does. Sometimes it’s kind of hard to be your best you at all times in a marriage, and it just reminds me of what it is that makes it work. So not only am I talking to (my audience) but I’m talking to myself. I need to listen to my albums a little more, my wife probably would say. But I do pretty good.
Well, we’re looking forward to seeing you in Austin when you get down here.
We’re looking forward to shakin’ up some dust down there, baby.