Ella Mai Howell (born 3 November 1994) is an English singer and songwriter. She signed to DJ Mustard's label 10 Summers Records in 2014.
Her EP's include Time, Change, and Ready. Her self-titled debut studio album was released in October 2018 and featured the singles "Boo'd Up" and "Trip", which were released on 20 February 2018 and 3 August 2018, respectively.
Ella Mai was born on November 3, 1994, to a Jamaican mother and Irish father in London. According to the singer, her mother, a lover of American jazz music, named her after Ella Fitzgerald. The names Ella and Miles give a glimpse at the intensity of their mother’s passion for the jazz greats.
Back when Ella was younger in London, she would play football on Saturdays, and on Sundays, she’d be in church with her grandmother, a minister in a Pentecostal church. Ella’s parents had split when the kids were young; Ella says that when it came to raising Ella and older brother, Miles, her mum did all the work. Her own tastes of music broadened with the arrival of her first iPod.
Ella Mai moved from London to New York City at the age of 12 when her mum got a job there. However, Ella hated the move as she felt different due to being the only person with an English accent. Later on, she graduated from Queens High School of Teaching in Glen Oaks, Queens before returning to England. After the family moved back to the UK, Ella scored a place at music college. Somewhere in her mum’s house is an old softback notebook containing that Ella kept. The notebook contained all of Ella’s earliest ideas. In an interview with The Guardian on February 9, 2019, Ella said, “I’ll probably look back on it and go: ‘Oh my God, what was I doing?’” she laughs. “But back then, I took it everywhere I went. It was like a sacred piece of equipment.” She writes song ideas into her phone these days.
By 2014, a college friend had introduced Ella to a producer, who in turn knew a third aspiring singer. The producer suggested to Ella to form a girl band. In the same interview with The Guardian, Ella remembers thinking “Three or four girls sounds like a headache”. She went “I was like: ‘Hell, no. I’m not going to be in a girl group.’”
Fast forward to X-Factor 2014, Ella showed up in her band named Arize and there were four yeses at the first audition. However, it was the boot camp that was less kind, and that was that. Neither Ella or her band make it to the live show.
On all of Ella’s tours, her merchant stand offers lyric booklets, designed so that streaming-era audiences can relive the endless hours she spent as a teenager devouring the inlays that came with her favorite CDs.
2014–2017: Career beginnings and EP trilogy
Ella Mai's singing career began, studying at the British and Irish Modern Music Institute London (BIMM London) in 2014. Through a friend, she met a producer and then she competed on season 11 of The X Factor as part of a trio, Arize. Unfortunately, they did not advance beyond the initial audition for the judges. The group broke up shortly thereafter.
The following year, Mai uploaded a four-track solo EP of originals to SoundCloud titled Trouble. The EP was produced by her high school friend, DJ Kam 1. Later on, in 2017, he was her DJ on Kehlani's SweetSexySavage World Tour. After being discovered on Instagram, she signed to DJ Mustard's label. She then also signed with 10 Summers Records and Interscope Records.
In February 2016, she released Time, which was the first in her EP trilogy. The six-track EP included the single featuring Ty Dollar Sign, "She Don't". She released her second EP, Change, in November 2016 and in February 2017, she released her third, Ready. "Boo'd Up", which was featured on the EP, rose in popularity on social media as well as in nightclubs.
Ella Mai toured with Kehlani on her SweetSexySavage World Tour. It was after Mai served as the opening act on Kehlani's tour, her music reached a bigger audience and the song grew on radio airplay in the spring of 2018.
2018–present: Self-titled debut album
On 26 April 2018, she released a music video for "Boo'd Up" after it started to gain popularity.
On 14 August, she joined Bruno Mars on the 24K Magic World Tour after Cardi B dropped out.
On 3 August, she released the single "Trip", with an accompanying music video releasing on 18 September. The song peaked at number 11 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Ella Mai released her self-titled debut album, on 12 October 2018. The album featured guest appearances from Chris Brown, John Legend, and H.E.R. The album sold 69,000 album-equivalent units with 17,000 coming from pure sales. On 22 October 2018, Mai announced her debut tour to begin in January 2019.
In November, she made two guest appearances on J.I.D's song "Tiiied" and Meek Mill's song "24/7". And, on 18 November, Ella Mai performed on Saturday Night Live. On SNL, Jezebel described Mai as "Pure '90s R&B Heartthrob".
On Christmas 2018, Stevie Wonder introduced Ella on stage at a charity event where they performed Superstition together, saying: “She made me want to go home and do some things. And guess what? I did.”
Ella Mai was released on 12 October 2018 by Interscope. It peaked at number one for the US R&B chart with a sales of 500,000. The album received Gold Certification for RIAA. “Boo’d Up” and “Trip” both won the RIAA platinum certs too.
In 2019, "Boo'd Up" was nominated for two Grammy Awards: Song of the Year and Best R&B Song, winning for the latter. Ella Mai herself was nominated for British Breakthrough Act at the 2019 Brit Awards.
The song became her first top ten songs in the US in the following month, making it her "breakthrough hit.” Rolling Stone wrote that the Boo’d Up is "one of the biggest singles by a breakout female R&B singer in the past 10 years." The single peaked at number five on the US Billboard Hot 100, and broke the record for the most weeks at No. 1 of any song by a woman on the R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay chart.
“Boo’d Up” spread like wildfire that Nicki Minaj and Quavo hopped on a remix. In 2018, at one photo shoot, Ella was handed a phone, and on the other end of the line was someone who would just call to say he loved “Boo’d Up”. In the interview Ella had with The Guardian, she said “He started talking, and I thought, ‘Hold on … ’ I don’t know who I expected it to be, but I definitely didn’t expect it to be Stevie Wonder.”