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Encore: On 'Company's Comin',' Leslie Jordan and gospel greats sing for joy


You might know the actor Leslie Jordan from his Emmy winning role on "Will & Grace" or from the new show "Call Me Kat" or maybe just from Instagram.


LESLIE JORDAN: Hello, fellow hunker downers. It's Leslie Alan Jordan reporting for duty.

SHAPIRO: His pandemic video diaries shot him to another level of fame over the last couple of years. He's got almost 6 million Instagram followers, and now he's also got merchandise, a book and a gospel album.


JORDAN: (Singing) This little light of mine - I'm gonna let it shine. This little light of mine - I'm gonna let it shine.

SHAPIRO: "Company's Comin'" has duets with some of the biggest names in country music, people like Dolly Parton, Chris Stapleton, Tanya Tucker, Brandi Carlile and more. Last year I got to welcome Leslie Jordan to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED to talk about it.

JORDAN: What a lovely introduction.

SHAPIRO: So why gospel music?

JORDAN: I grew up in the church, in the Southern Baptist Church. And it's - when you grow up in the church, everything that we did, even socially, was around the church. It was just such a big part of our - you know, our lives. And I loved that music, you know? And then whatever axe I had to grind with the church as I got older and realized I was a homosexual and...


JORDAN: You know, it's hard to embrace something that doesn't embrace you. So...


JORDAN: ...I kind of wandered away. But I - over the years, you know, you get over. And you look back, and you think, well, you know what? Everybody's doing the best they can with the light they have to see with. And I sure, you know, enjoyed the songs, the music of my youth.

SHAPIRO: Is there a song from those Sunday mornings that you remember hearing in the pews when you were a kid that you're doing on this album now?

JORDAN: Almost every single one of them.

SHAPIRO: Really?

JORDAN: You know, every single one of them. The one that really struck home to me because it was my dad's favorite song is the one that we got T.J. Osborne to sing. It's called "In The Sweet By And By," which is just an old...


JORDAN: ...Southern hymn.


LESLIE JORDAN AND TJ OSBORNE: (Singing) In the sweet by and by, we shall meet on that beautiful shore.

SHAPIRO: T.J. Osborne recently came out. Did you and he talk about your shared experience growing up gay in the church?

JORDAN: You know, what happened was we texted a lot. He was going to make that announcement, and that's a big one in the country music industry. And it was a very heartfelt decision, but it was one that he knew he had to make. And what do you do? I just told him, I'm here. I'm here.


JORDAN: And our spirits shall sorrow no more.

JORDAN AND OSBORNE: (Singing) And our spirits shall sorrow no more.

JORDAN: You know, people ask me, well, what was your coming-out experience? Honey, I fell out of the womb into my mother's high heels. You know what I mean?


JORDAN: I do remember at some point telling people. I remember I told my mother when I was about 12. I thought she might pull out the Bible. That's what I thought would happen - you know, just not at all, not at all. She was so wise. And I remember her saying, my fear is that you'll be ridiculed, and I could not bear that. So maybe you can live just a quiet life. So here I am (laughter), you know?

SHAPIRO: So let's talk more about this amazing music, which is anything but quiet. Your track with Chris and Morgane Stapleton is called "Farther Along."


LESLIE JORDAN, MORGANE STAPLETON AND CHRIS STAPLETON: (Singing) Farther along, we'll know all about it.

JORDAN: I don't know if it was because of COVID or if this is the way it was done, but I was never in the studio. They laid down their tracks, and then I laid down mine on top of those. And then we just sent them to everybody and waited with bated breath. Then, you know, it just all came together so beautifully.


JORDAN, M STAPLETON AND C STAPLETON: (Singing) We'll understand it all by and by.

JORDAN: What about the boys?

SHAPIRO: When those horns come in, it just blows me away.

JORDAN: Because then it's followed by him. (Singing) Farther - when he comes in, I almost wet my pants.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).


CHRIS STAPLETON: (Singing) Farther along, we'll know all about it.

JORDAN: (Singing) People, yes, we will.

C STAPLETON: (Singing) Farther along, we'll understand why.

MORGANE STAPLETON: (Singing) We'll understand.

SHAPIRO: So, all right, can we just talk about Dolly Parton? - because of all the greats on this album, Dolly Parton is undoubtedly the greatest. I mean...


DOLLY PARTON: (Vocalizing).

JORDAN: That little voice just came in. Little - what am I talking about? But you hear it, and it's just - oh, my gosh.


JORDAN: Can you sing one, Dolly?

PARTON: Yes, I will. (Singing) A rose is blooming there for me, where the soul of man never dies.

JORDAN: And she has a guy that travels with her and designs her clothes, Steve Summers. And I have told him over the years - I know him - I said, I want to meet her. It's just - you know, I want to meet her so bad.

So he set up a meeting with us, and I went to the studio. And, of course, the first discussions were, should we remain masked even though we're social distancing? And, yes, we did because, you know, she's 75 years old. You know, so you don't want to mess with Dolly. And it was more her people. You know, all her people are going to protect her at all costs.

SHAPIRO: Also, as beloved as you are, Leslie Jordan, if you had given Dolly Parton COVID-19, America would turn on you.

JORDAN: Turn on me like a mother-in-law.


LESLIE JORDAN AND DOLLY PARTON: (Singing) Where the soul of man never dies.

PARTON: (Singing) Never dies.

SHAPIRO: So you talked about your lifelong journey into the church and away from the church and now back to making this album. How does it feel to have come full circle in this way?

JORDAN: Well, I thought the other day, I'm 65 years old. I'm perfectly happy with - and comfortable - who I am, what I am. And that's, like, quite a journey.

People think because now that I'm so - I seem to be so sure of myself, you know, that maybe I was like that as a kid. Oh, my gosh. I was the most awkward kid. And I thought - I knew I was somewhat effeminate, but I didn't know how to not be. You know what I mean?

It's weird because I've said before, oh, I was bullied. And then I have people that come up to me in Tennessee and go, you were the most popular kid in school. What do you mean you were bullied? Well, it was the idea that it could happen, almost. Like, I had this secret, and I'm tap dancing all around, you know? And I learned very early that I could keep the bullies at bay with my humor. And so that was in many ways kind of a defense mechanism.


JORDAN: You know, and I find that even as an adult. You come up to me, and I'm not quite ready to - or I'm feeling kind of shy - people go, shy? You're not shy. - but feeling a little shy - I'll jump into it.


LESLIE JORDAN AND ASHLEY MCBRYDE: (Singing) I'm working on a building. I'm working on building.

SHAPIRO: Leslie Jordan, what a joy to talk to you. Thank you so much.

JORDAN: Oh, thank you so much for having me.

SHAPIRO: His new gospel album is called "Company's Comin'."


ASHLEY MCBRYDE: The Reverend Leslie Jordan.

JORDAN: (Singing) If I was a liar, I tell you what I'd do. I think I'd quit my lying. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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