Abraham Alexander got his start in Fort Worth, playing alongside Leon Bridges. Photo by Crystal Wise/courtesy Sacks and Co.

With Valentine’s Day on the horizon, Abraham Alexander’s love song “Tears Run Dry” is filling the airwaves.” The track, which comes from his debut album, SEA/SONS, was inspired by the story of family friends celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. Alexander’s smooth, angelic, and way-too-persuasive voice, plus his lyrical tales of love, loss, and hope recall soul crooners like Usher, Sam Cooke, Bill Withers, and Gilmer native Johnny Mathis.

Although rhythm and blues, soul, pop, and rock are woven into every song on the album, which dropped in April, he calls himself a folk singer. He’s the unlikeliest music star to emerge from Fort Worth since Leon Bridges.

“My place for sure is Fort Worth,” Alexander told me in January, calling from Fort Worth where he was preparing for a trip to London for a planning session. “My family’s here, my friends are here, and the people who helped me discover who I am, help me amplify my voice, better yet to discover my voice, all that’s in Texas.”

Alexander was born in Greece to Nigerian immigrant parents, Nikki and Toks Ademola, who moved to Texas when Alexander was 11. In a matter of months following their move, his mother was killed by a drunk driver. His father was abusive and Alexander went to live with his ESL teacher before being adopted by his family in Arlington in 2018. His relationship with his father is referenced in the songs “Heart of Gold” and “Blood Under the Bridge” on SEA/SONS. “Xavier,” the first track, remembers his adopted brother, Xavier, who was killed by armed robbers in 2017.

His birth parents had musical backgrounds in Nigeria, but with the string of traumas he’d endured music was the last thing that Alexander, the middle son, wanted to do. He focused on sports, excelling as an all-district forward for the Lamar High Vikings soccer team in Arlington, which earned him a scholarship at Texas Wesleyan University in Fort Worth. In 2011, he tore his ACL and was sidelined from playing soccer for the TWU Rams. His girlfriend loaned him a guitar to lift him out of his injury funk. He watched YouTube videos to teach himself how to play and found a role model watching clips of Gary Clark Jr. He thought if a lanky Black guitarist from Austin could do it, maybe he could, too.

Abraham Alexander performs Feb. 16-March 2 in San Antonio, Houston, Austin, and Fort Worth. Get tickets here.

Turns out Alexander could play. And sing. And write songs.

Thus began his decade-long journey to overnight sensation. In 2015, when he was supporting himself working as a teller at a bank, he met Austin Jenkins and Josh Block, who along with Chris Vivion, had opened Niles City Sound, a Fort Worth recording studio loaded with vintage analog equipment. The studio was put together to record Bridges, who was making a name around town while working as a dishwasher. Jenkins and Block invited Alexander to sing background on the recording, which became Bridges’ Grammy-nominated album Coming Home. Alexander was too intimidated to actually sing in the studio, but he hummed on the backing tracks, which turned out to be one of the hooks to the title track. That taste was all he needed.

Bridges had been signed by Columbia Records after several years of playing open mic nights in Fort Worth and Dallas; he urged Alexander to do the same to hone his craft and improve his songwriting skills. Alexander wrote songs alone, and with Bridges, and with Brandon Marcel, who also sang on Bridges’ debut album. The open mic scene introduced Alexander to another fellow traveler, Charley Crockett. He met him in 2015 when Bridges invited them to play at his birthday backyard bash. “That’s the personification of the love musicians from the Dallas-Fort Worth area have for each other,” Alexander said. “It’s a big community but very close-knit. When someone comes out of here, we support them. Any light shining on one person is going to reflect on everyone else.”

Bridges provided a huge stage for Alexander, who opened Bridges’ shows on national tours. Alexander also opened for indie alt-folk rocker Ani DiFranco and soul legend Mavis Staples, who covered “Déjà Vu,” Alexander’s dark song about 16-year-old Kalief Browder, who spent three years at Riker’s Island prison in New York before he died by suicide. And he eventually met and became friends with Clark, Jr., who added his distinctive stylings to Alexander’s song “Stay.”

In 2016, a highly charged political song Alexander wrote called “America,” protesting police violence against Black people, caught the ear of Mahogany Records in England. The company flew Alexander to Abbey Road Studios in London where he recorded four songs for an EP. Writing in London and making his own recordings made him realize how much he missed home. “Sure, I could go out to LA or New York but there’s a beauty in staying home and getting to build with the people who have seen you grow up and know who you are, what your story is,” he said. “Fort Worth is one of the fastest-growing cities in the country. There’s opportunity here.”

Everything about Alexander is exceptionally Fort Worth. He says when he’s traveling, what he misses most is the city’s food scene. He rattles off a few of his favorite spots at the moment: Coco Shrimp, Don Artemio Mexican Heritage, Bowie Place, Velvet Taco. He’s also a stylish dresser. “Boots? Of course. I wear the boots,” he said.

Still, the Fort Worth Western edge shows in the sensitivity and vulnerability he projects. High lonesome is practically a Fort Worth music tradition dating back to Townes Van Zandt, the late Texas folksinger born in Fort Worth. It would be easy for Alexander to focus exclusively on sweet soul love songs like “Tears Run Dry.” But he’s offering something deeper, drawing from personal experiences to inform the stories he’s telling. “Where I grew up, I could walk out of our apartment complex, look up, and see the Acropolis and see the Parthenon. It goes to show beauty and pain can live synonymously together,” he said. “It taught me it doesn’t have to define who I am, and in a sense, that’s a gift you can’t necessarily buy. It’s something you have to experience. And what a way to experience all that in that country.”

What about this country beyond Fort Worth? Alexander says he appreciates Austin’s ability to foster artists and creativity. In 2023, he appeared at ACL Fest, South By Southwest, and Willie Nelson’s Luck Reunion. He says he’d love to spend time in Corpus Christi. “I’ve heard it’s a good place for writing music,” he said.

If Corpus was good enough for Selena Quintanilla, Don Williams, Tony Joe While, and Steve Jordan, the Sparkling City By the Sea will be a welcoming place for Alexander to create some day. But first, while in London, he planned to write for what’s coming next. “There’s some work left to be done on that first record.”

Before our call ended, I asked one last question: Over that 10-year climb to become the singer-songwriter he is today, did his mentor Leon Bridges offer any sage advice?

Alexander laughed.

“The best advice he ever gave me was, ‘Don’t have a Plan B.’”

The June 2024 cover of Texas Highways: Treasures from the Coast

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