HotStar: Mayer Hawthorne

His music may be steeped in the Motown soul of his youth in Ann Arbor, Mich., but Mayer Hawthorne is not just the latest in a recent line of neo-soul aspirants to stardom.

Inspired in part by Motown legends like Smokey Robinson and Curtis Mayfield, and the Holland-Dozier-Holland team of writers and producers, Hawthorne’s “Long Time,” from his Universal Republic debut How Do You Do, recalls Steely Dan as much as “Just Ain’t Gonna Work Out” does Robinson.

But while his music often evokes classic, early 1970s Detroit/Philly soul, Hawthorne brings new twists to the party – it’s more new school than old. And he has caught the ears of some pretty impressive connoisseurs of the genre in the inimitable Snoop Dogg, who throws down a duet with Hawthorne on “Can’t Stop,” and one-time Amy Winehouse producer and DJ Mark Ronson.

Not coincidentally, Hawthorne opened for Winehouse on the doomed diva’s final concerts in Brazil just months before her death last summer.

But despite that marquee turn, Hawthorne has been working a steady build since his self-produced, independent label debut A Strange Arrangement in 2009. That auspicious debut caught the notice of the New York Times, Rolling Stone and National Public Radio, among others. Word of mouth about his live shows boosted him from opening slots in under-500-capacity clubs to headlining a tour of 500- to 1,000-seaters within months.

He was snapped up for representation by CAA, where he’s repped by JBeau Lewis, which promptly had him opening for a co-bill of two of 2011’s brightest emerging stars: Bruno Mars and Janelle Monae. He spent the last half of the year on the road with Chromeo.

After paying his dues as an opener, 2012 is all about Hawthorne, who performs with a changing cast of musicians he calls The County. He is currently winding down a headlining world tour, but Jeff Klein, one of three partners of A-Side Worldwide who manage his career, told Pollstar that the road warrior will soon finalize his itinerary for the rest of the year.