Coffee @ Ralph’s: Leon Bridges

The neo-soul sensation on songcraft, playing the White House, and why he’s glad he didn’t become a barber

It’s been a big year for Leon Bridges. His debut album, Coming Home, earned critical raves and a devoted fan base, which sparked a successful tour, performances on SNL, a story in GQ, and even an invitation to play the White House. Not bad for a guy who just three years ago was living at home with his mother in Fort Worth, Texas, and washing dishes for a living.

It’s the sort of out-of-nowhere narrative that every kid with a mirror and a hairbrush dreams of, but for Bridges, now 26, the transition from dishwasher to soul-singing sensation involved mixed emotions. “They supported me,” he says of his former employers. “It’s hard to find hard workers—people who are dedicated when you’re only making $8 an hour. For me, I learned from day one to give your all, 100 percent of everything.”

Not, perhaps, what one expects to hear in the era of Insta-fame. But then, much about Leon Bridges is unexpected, from his unorthodox dance moves (he studied dance in college) to his humility and dedication to the way he transforms himself from low-key, impeccably mannered gent to outsized entertainer the moment he steps on stage.

In our latest Coffee @ Ralph’s Q&A, the breakout star of neo-soul shares his philosophy on dance moves, songwriting, and style—plus the one career move he’s glad he didn’t make.