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On 'Company's Comin',' Leslie Jordan And Gospel Greats Sing For Joy

Apr 3, 2021
Originally published on April 5, 2021 1:31 am

This last year has been dark. For millions of people, Leslie Jordan's voice has been a ray of light. An Emmy winning actor before the pandemic, his quarantine video diaries have shot him to another level of fame.

He has almost six million Instagram followers and, now, he also has branded merchandise, a book on the way and a gospel album: Company's Comin'. The album has duets with some of the biggest names in country music: Dolly Parton, Chris Stapleton, Tanya Tucker, Brandi Carlisle and more.

Leslie Jordan spoke with NPR's Ari Shapiro about his childhood in the church, the songs he heard in the pews and finally meeting Dolly Parton. Hear the radio version at the audio link, and read on for an edited transcript.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


Ari Shapiro: So, why gospel music?

Leslie Jordan: I grew up in the church, in the Southern Baptist church. When you grow up in the church, everything that we did — even socially — was around the church. It was just such a big part of our lives. And I loved that music. And then, whatever axe I had to grind with the church as I got older and realized I was a homosexual ... and it's hard to embrace something that doesn't embrace you. So, I wandered away. But over the years you get older and you look back and you think, "Well, you know what. Everybody's doing the best they can with the life they have."

Will you paint a picture for us of what that childhood in the church was like for you? I mean, just describe the experience for us.

We would get up on Sunday mornings and we would get all dressed. I wore a little clip-on tie. And my mother would buy me little outfits — I loved to dress up. Then, we would go and we had what was called a Sunday school, which was the hour of teaching with all the children and the Bible stories and all that. And then we had the morning worship service, which was kind of boring when I was a kid because that preacher – oh, my gosh! He could preach, preach, preach. Anyway, it was a wonderful way to grow up.

Is there a song from those Sunday mornings that you remember hearing in the pews, when you were a kid, that you're doing on this album now?

Almost every single one of them. The one that that that really struck home to me, because it was my dad's favorite song, is the one that we got T.J. Osborne to sing. It's called "In the Sweet By and By," which is just an old, old Southern hymn.

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T.J. Osborne recently came out – did you and he talk about your shared experience, growing up gay in the church?

What happened was, we texted a lot. And [his coming out] was a very heartfelt decision, but it was one that he knew he had to make ... I just told him, "I'm here, I'm here."

People ask me, "Well, what was your coming-out experience?" Honey, I fell out of the womb, into my mother's high heels! You know what I mean?

I do remember, at some point, telling people. I told my mother when I was about 12, I thought she might pull out the Bible. That's what I thought would happen ... not at all. Not at all. She was so wise. And I remember her saying, "My fear is that you'll be ridiculed. And I could not bear that. So, maybe you can live just ... a quiet life." So, here I am!

So, alright, can we just talk about Dolly Parton? Because, of all the greats on this album, Dolly Parton is undoubtedly the greatest.

She was in Nashville and I wanted to meet her forever and ever, and she has a guy that travels with her and designs her clothes, Steve Summers. I've told him over the years, "I want to meet her ... I want to meet her so bad." And so he set up a meeting with us.

I was impressed with how smart she is and how present she is and what a businesswoman she is. Even Steve Summers said to me, "Now listen, Dolly takes her music very serious. So, you know, if you want her to sing with you, we've got to play in this. And this is the way it's going to happen and this is the way it's going to do." And la, la, la. And so, we followed the rules – and we were able to apply a lot of those roles to the other artists. It made it a much better experience, because Dolly has done it for so long.

Do you think this album of gospel music you've created might do something for a person who is at the point in their journey you were at a couple of decades ago, when you were feeling more distant from this religion that you felt was not very accepting of you?

I hope that might happen. You know ... I'm going to put it out there. You take away from it whatever you want, because these are old, old hands ... they've been around since the 1800s, some of them. I'm hoping no matter how you were raised — Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, whatever — you know that you can still listen and enjoy this music. Because it's just like saying, "This is the music of my childhood."

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

This last year has been dark, and for millions of people, this voice has been a ray of light.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LESLIE JORDAN: Hello, fellow hunker downers. It's Leslie Allen Jordan reporting for duty.

SHAPIRO: Leslie Jordan was an Emmy-winning actor before the pandemic. And during the pandemic, his quarantine video diaries on Instagram have shot him to another level of fame. He has almost 6 million Instagram followers, and now he's also got branded merchandise, a book on the way and a gospel album.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THIS LITTLE LIGHT OF MINE")

JORDAN: (Singing) This little light of mine, I'm going to let it shine. This little light of mine, I'm going to let it shine.

SHAPIRO: "Company's Comin'" has duets with some of the biggest names in country music. We are talking about Dolly Parton, Chris Stapleton, Tanya Tucker, Brandi Carlile and more. Leslie Jordan, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, and thank you for all the joy you have brought us in the last year.

JORDAN: What a lovely introduction.

SHAPIRO: So why gospel music?

JORDAN: I grew up in the church, in the Southern Baptist Church. And it's - when you grow up in the church, everything that we did, even socially, was around the church. It was just such a big part of our - you know, our lives. And I loved that music, you know? And then whatever axe I had to grind with the church as I got older and realized I was a homosexual and...

(LAUGHTER)

JORDAN: You know, it's hard to embrace something that doesn't embrace you. So...

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

JORDAN: I kind of wandered away. But I - over the years, you know, you get over, and you look back. And you think, well, you know what? Everybody's doing the best they can with the light they have to see with. And I sure, you know, enjoyed the songs, the music of my youth.

SHAPIRO: Is there a song from those Sunday mornings that you remember hearing in the pews when you were a kid that you're doing on this album now?

JORDAN: Almost every single one of them.

SHAPIRO: Really?

JORDAN: You know, every single one of them. The one that really struck home to me because it was my dad's favorite song is the one that we got T.J. Osborne to sing. It's called "In The Sweet By And By," which is just an old...

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

JORDAN: ...Southern hymn.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IN THE SWEET BY AND BY")

LESLIE JORDAN AND TJ OSBORNE: (Singing) In the sweet by and by, we shall meet on that beautiful shore.

SHAPIRO: T.J. Osborne recently came out. Did you and he talk about your shared experience growing up gay in the church?

JORDAN: You know, what happened was we texted a lot. He was going to make that announcement, and that's a big one in the country music industry. And it was a very heartfelt decision, but it was one that he knew he had to make. And what do you do? I just told him, I'm here. I'm here.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IN THE SWEET BY AND BY")

JORDAN: And our spirits shall sorrow no more.

JORDAN AND OSBORNE: (Singing) And our spirits shall sorrow no more.

JORDAN: You know, people ask me, well, what was your coming out experience? Honey, I fell out of the womb into my mother's high heels.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

JORDAN: I do remember at some point telling people. I remember I told my mother when I was about 12. I thought she might pull out the bottle. That's what I thought would happen - you know, just not at all, not at all. She was so wise. And I remember her saying, my fear is that you'll be ridiculed, and I could not bear that. So maybe you can live just a quiet life. So here I am, you know (laughter)?

SHAPIRO: So let's talk more about this amazing music, which is anything but quiet. Your track with Chris and Morgane Stapleton is called "Farther Along."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FARTHER ALONG")

LESLIE JORDAN AND MORGANE STAPLETON: (Singing) Farther along, we'll know all about it.

JORDAN: I don't know if it was because of COVID or if this is the way it was done, but I was never in the studio. They laid down their tracks, and then I laid down mine on top of those. And then we just sent them to everybody and waited with bated breath. Then, you know, it just all came together so beautifully.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FARTHER ALONG")

JORDAN AND STAPLETON: (Singing) We'll understand it all by and by.

JORDAN: What about the boys?

SHAPIRO: When those horns come in, it just blows me away.

JORDAN: Because then it's followed by him. (Singing) Farther - when he comes in, I almost wet my pants.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FARTHER ALONG")

LESLIE JORDAN, MORGANE STAPLETON AND CHRIS STAPLETON: (Singing) Farther along, we'll know all about it.

MORGANE STAPLETON: (Singing) People, yes, we will.

JORDAN, STAPLETON AND STAPLETON: (Singing) Farther along, we'll understand why.

STAPLETON: (Singing) We'll understand.

SHAPIRO: So, all right, can we just talk about Dolly Parton? - because of all the greats on this album, Dolly Parton is undoubtedly the greatest. I mean...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHERE THE SOUL NEVER DIES")

DOLLY PARTON: (Vocalizing).

JORDAN: That little voice just came in. Little - what am I talking about? But you hear it, and it's just - oh, my gosh.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHERE THE SOUL NEVER DIES")

JORDAN: Can you sing one, Dolly?

PARTON: Yes, I will. (Singing) A rose is blooming there for me, where the soul of man never dies.

JORDAN: And she has a guy that travels with her and designs her clothes, Steve Summers. And I have told him over the years - I know him. I said, I want to meet her. It's just - you know, I want to meet her so bad. So he set up a meeting with us, and I went to the studio. And, of course, the first discussions were, should we remain masked even though we're social distancing? And, yes, we did because, you know, she's 75 years old. You know, so you don't want to mess with Dolly. And it was more her people. You know, all her people are going to protect her at all costs.

SHAPIRO: Also, as beloved as you are, Leslie Jordan, if you had given Dolly Parton COVID-19, America would turn on you.

JORDAN: Turn on me like a mother-in-law.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHERE THE SOUL NEVER DIES")

LESLIE JORDAN AND DOLLY PARTON: (Singing) Where the soul of man never dies.

PARTON: (Singing) Never dies.

SHAPIRO: So you talked about your lifelong journey into the church and away from the church and now back to making this album. How does it feel to have come full circle in this way?

JORDAN: Well, I thought the other day, I'm 65 years old. I'm perfectly happy with and comfortable with who I am, what I am. And that's, like, quite a journey. People say that because now that I'm so - I seem to be so sure of myself, you know, that maybe I was like that as a kid. Oh, my gosh. I was the most awkward kid. And I thought - I knew I was somewhat effeminate, but I didn't know how to not be. You know what I mean?

It's weird because I've said before, oh, I was bullied. And then I have people that come up to me in Tennessee and go, you were the most popular kid in school. What do you mean you were bullied? Well, it was the idea that it could happen almost. Like, I had the secret, and I'm tap dancing all around, you know? And I learned very early that I could keep the bullies at bay with my humor. And so that was in many ways kind of a defense mechanism.

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

JORDAN: You know, and I find that even as an adult, you come up to me, and I'm not quite ready to - or I'm feeling kind of shy. People go, shy? You're not shy. But feeling a little shy - I'll jump into it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WORKING ON A BUILDING")

LESLIE JORDAN AND ASHLEY MCBRYDE: (Singing) I'm working on a building. I'm working on building.

SHAPIRO: Leslie Jordan, what a joy to talk to you. Thank you so much.

JORDAN: Oh, thank you so much for having me.

SHAPIRO: His new gospel album is called "Company's Comin'."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WORKING ON A BUILDING")

ASHLEY MCBRYDE: The Reverend Leslie Jordan.

JORDAN: (Singing) If I was a liar, I tell you what I'd do. I think I'd quit my lying. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.