Several months ago, Winston-Salem-native Sonny Miles recorded “Raleighwood Hills” with his friends LesTheGenius and Jaxson Free, and did what modern musicians do today — got it placed on a curated Spotify playlist, posted it on YouTube and hoped for the best.
A very influential listener came across the song written by the Raleigh-based hip-hop artists and liked it.
His name is Barack Obama.
With one tweet, the former president plucked this dreamy hip-hop song from obscurity, exposing it to his 111 million Twitter followers by putting it on his 2019 music playlist, alongside such superstars as Beyonce, Bruce Springsteen, Lizzo and Lil Nas X.
Miles, whose real name is Jordan Williams, shook his head and smiled about this unexpected surge in exposure from the most unlikeliest of places.
“This is crazy,” Miles said, laughing. “The big lesson is you never know who is listening.”
Since Obama tweeted his favorite music of the year on Dec. 30, Miles, a 2014 graduate of Mount Tabor High School, has seen an uptick in followers on his social media pages, which he hopes will translate into a career boost.
The number of people listening to “Raleighwood Hills” on YouTube has steadily increased by the day, with many people referencing Obama’s playlist in their comments.
“President Obama brought me here,” one person wrote.
National media outlets such as Vanity Fair, the Los Angeles Times and Rolling Stone have written about Obama’s playlist, typically mentioning the inclusion of Lizzo and DaBaby, two of the hottest stars in music today. “Raleighwood Hills” is usually not mentioned in such articles because it has had such little exposure.
After recording the song in the spring of 2019, the three collaborators got Spotify to put the song on one of its curated playlists for a month. Miles estimated that playlist has about 40,000 followers.
He has no idea how the song reached Obama’s ears.
“We’re still trying to figure that out. Maybe from Malia and Sasha?” Miles said, referring to Obama’s daughters.
A friend called Miles on the morning of Dec. 30 to tell him of the playlist.
“You must not know what’s going on because you sound awfully calm,” the friend told Miles.
Miles has been working on his music career for six years, even while earning a degree in communications from N.C. State. It’s hard to tell what sort of bump this exposure could mean.
All 44 songs on Obama’s 2019 summer playlist saw an increase in sales and streams, according to Billboard, a music industry magazine.
“This is confirming of our own hard work. I know the tide is definitely turning,” Miles said.
Miles has a broad set of musical skills. He started as a drummer, playing in churches where his father, a pastor, preached. He was inspired to start singing after seeing a Mount Tabor production of “Godspell” and began performing in school productions, crediting his chorus teacher, Ross Broadway, with mentoring him.
“I thought, ‘Damn, that’s cool,’” Miles said of seeing his first school musical. “I think I can do that.”
He started playing guitar after graduation and shortly after, began singing with a cappella groups and then started rapping. He raps on part of “Raleighwood Hills.”
Steeped in the music of Prince and Sly & the Family Stone, Miles has a smooth, soulful voice that matches his guitar style. His music has been called “acoustic soul” for its relaxed, chilled vibe. He chose the stage name Sonny Miles in honor of jazz players Sonny Stitt and Miles Davis.
Miles laughed about his old-school music preferences, saying he eventually came around to appreciate modern performers such as Travis Scott.
Miles has a new album, “Gamma,” coming out shortly, and a single “Bedroom Hollywood” is available on bandcamp. Though his music career is based in Raleigh, he is currently living in Winston-Salem where he plans to immerse himself in music engineering, another skill he is eager to develop.
“Everything is very conveniently happening. Now is the time to answer all this with more content, more music. Right now, I just want to release my next body of work and bam!” he said punching his fist in the air.