Cellist and vocalist Gabriel Royal got his start as a busker on the New York City subway, but the Oklahoma-born musician has emerged as trailblazing talent with inimitable style and enviable range. He’s performed at NYC’s top music venues, including (le) poisson rouge and The Blue Note; played to sold-out crowds in countries around the world; and collaborated with some of the industry's most in-demand names, including the Beyoncé-endorsed music video director Blake Farber. A classically trained musician known for his soaring vocals, hum-along melodies, and lush arrangements, he is among a select number of artists combining the unique sounds of cello and voice. And if his sophomore effort Miss Once in a Blue Moon, out September 7, is any indication, it's a marriage that not only works— it sings.
Raised on John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock, Royal, who first got serious about music as a cellist in his high school orchestra, is no stranger to improvisation. As a teenager, he taught himself piano and the drums, and rounded out his orchestral training with basement jam sessions and stints in extracurricular bands. "I had a lot of creative friends as a kid," says Royal. "We'd be at school, learning music theory and rehearsing Dvořák by day, and making our own music, listening to Outkast by night."
Royal’s spirit of playfulness and improvisation informed his first album, a self-titled project released in 2016 and written mostly underground. "Most of my first album I wrote while busking on the subway. I was just jamming, testing out new material and seeing how people responded," says the Brooklyn-based artist, who also teaches music at elementary and junior high schools in New York City. Despite the album's humble beginnings, it established Royal as a singer-songwriter with extraordinary sensitivity and creative intuition.
The theme of romantic love is the backbone of Miss Once in a Blue Moon, whose title takes its cues from a noncommittal ex. "I’m always thinking about love— what happened to me last year and what could happen to me tonight," says Royal. “And my music has always been a vehicle for emotional discovery." But for all its tenderness, Miss Once in A Blue Moon—which Royal wrote over a feverish period of six months— is also a bold coming-out from an artist the Huffington Post once dubbed "Brooklyn’s best busker."
"It's cliché but true that I want people to listen to my music and love it," says Royal. "I want them to dance, I want them to think it’s pretty, and I want them to find themselves in it."