Tony winner Leslie Odom, Jr. parlayed roles in the original cast of Broadway’s Hamilton and NBC’s Smash into film roles and a successful recording career as a solo artist. He topped the Billboard jazz chart in 2016 with his graceful, nuanced performances of a diverse set of covers for his self-titled debut. His first album of original material, Mr, saw release in 2019.
Born in 1981 in Queens, New York, Odom was raised in Philadelphia. A life-long performer, he made his Broadway debut as a replacement in Rent at the age of 17. He went on to study drama at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, and relocated to Los Angeles after graduating in 2003. It wasn’t long before he began accumulating guest spots and recurring roles on television shows including Gilmore Girls, CSI: Miami, and Vanished.
In 2012, Odom earned a part in the Broadway musical Leap of Faith and appeared on the cast recording. Later that year, he landed the role of Sam Strickland on the NBC drama Smash, a show fittingly about Broadway performers competing for parts. Fellow cast member Megan Hilty had been a year behind him at Carnegie Mellon. Smash ran for two seasons and resulted in the album Bombshell, a recording of the Marilyn Monroe musical from within the show’s story. Released by Columbia in 2013, the pseudo-Broadway cast recording featured music and lyrics by Marc Shaiman.
In the meantime, Odom married actress Nicolette Robinson and, amid more television work, began workshopping Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical Hamilton, playing Aaron Burr. Inspired by Ron Chernow’s biography of U.S. founding father Alexander Hamilton, it was conceived as a musical version of history that would feature an ethnically diverse cast and part hip-hop songbook. In 2014, Odom also self-released his debut solo album, Leslie Odom, Jr., a set of vocal jazz covers of show tunes and popular song.
The singer/actor/dancer originated the role of Hamilton’s Aaron Burr on Broadway in 2015 and went on to win a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical, even beating out Miranda as Alexander Hamilton. (Miranda won Tonys for the book, original score, and musical, as well as a Pulitzer Prize for Drama, among other honors for the blockbuster.) The hit cast album Hamilton: An American Musical topped the Billboard Cast Albums and Rap Albums charts. Odom performed on over half of the tracks.
In June 2016, S-Curve released an updated version of his debut LP that cut three songs and added four more, including Kosma-Mercer’s “Autumn Leaves” and Jule Styne’s “The Party’s Over.” The re-release hit number one on Billboard’s jazz chart and made the Billboard 200, peaking at number 147. Saying that he got requests for a Christmas album “a few times a week,” Odom followed it up later that year with Simply Christmas, another jazz number one, which reached the Billboard 200′s Top 40. A deluxe edition with four extra tracks followed in 2017. That year, Odom also appeared on the big screen as part of the ensemble cast of Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express.
Macmillan imprint Feiwel & Friends published Odom’s book Failing Up: How to Take Risks, Aim Higher, and Never Stop Learning in March 2018. That year, he had a recurring role on the CBS series One Dollar, and a year later, he co-starred in the Harriet Tubman biopic, Harriet. His third album and first to feature his own original songs, Mr, arrived on S-Curve in November 2019. It was recorded in Los Angeles with producers Joseph Abate and Neff-U. The following year saw the release of the holiday LP The Christmas Album, and in 2021 Odom earned a Golden Globe nomination for his portrayal of Sam Cooke in the Regina King-directed One Night in Miami. He also appeared on the film’s soundtrack. ~ Marcy Donelson