“It’s so quiet, you can hear a pin drop,” says tenor Branden James Smith about what it’s like to play at Vanessie Santa Fe with cellist and pianist James Clark.
Smith and Clark, known professionally as Branden & James, are musical partners and a married couple who’ve been sharing their version of classical cross-over music with audiences at Vanessie Santa Fe for more than a year.
The duo’s expansive repertoire features everything from the Beatles, Josh Groban, Top 40 songs and rock ’n roll to Bach cello pieces, jazz standards and old Broadway tunes. Song requests, often scribbled on napkins, are frequently handed to them during performances. “I love to croon,” says Smith, who occasionally accompanies himself on the piano. From time to time Smith, who was trained at the San Francisco Conservatory and has performed with The Twelve Tenors, the Los Angeles Opera and New York’s Metropolitan Opera, decides to sing an operatic aria.
“I really began appreciating mainstream music after appearing on the 2013 season of ‘America’s Got Talent,’” says Smith, a finalist on the show. “That experience, which was kind of strange, helped me define my musical direction. I also realized that I like performing with other musicians rather than solo. That way, I get to bounce ideas off someone else.”
By the summer of 2014 when Smith met Clark, a native of Australia who completed his master’s degree in music at California State University, both men knew what they wanted from their careers. They initially bonded over a love of church music. Their first performance together took place at the end of 2014 and, according to Clark, was “synergistic.”
When not performing at Vanessie Santa Fe, the duo does gigs in venues worldwide, including several in Australia and South Africa just this past summer. In early November, Branden & James say “aloha” to Santa Fe and head to Hawaii as headline entertainers on a cruise ship. After a two-week stint at The Palm Cabaret in Puerta Vallarta in the beginning of December, it’s back to Vanessie Santa Fe at the end of the year.
To hear why this duo is so popular, visit their website brandenjames.com to listen to a clip of their latest original song “You Belong,” which was written with Jess Godwin. It’s a powerful message about social inclusivity and serves as a reminder that everyone has a place in the world.