Jupiter resident James Squires has entertained thousands of people all over the world, some whose names are very familiar. Back in the ’80s, he sang at the White House three times for President Reagan. In 1988, he performed at the Vatican for Pope John Paul II. He has entertained audiences from Florida to New York with his tenor voice and the various instruments he plays—bongos, congas, tambourine, shakers, and the Zendrum, which is a wood instrument worn like a guitar and programmed like a computer.
He has built movie sets in Miami, performed in iconic Broadway musicals (The Music Man, Guys and Dolls, My Fair Lady), and promoted theaters and arts organizations like Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington Ballet, and the former Coconut Grove Playhouse. On the other end of the spectrum, he is also a self-taught computer whiz who has built websites and computer networks and maintained Windows operating systems for corporate and residential clients.
“I don’t do this for the money,” says the 70-year-old musician of performing. “Musicians travel 50 miles to set up $50,000 worth of equipment for $50 pay. I enjoy performing and interacting with the crowd. When we get feedback from the audience, it is magic.”
Currently, Squires is a member of two bands—Hot Sauce Moon, a five-member group that offers eclectic classic rock, blues and Americana, and No Prince Charmings, a four-piece jazz-inspired combo. His bands play regularly from Stuart to Lake Worth, at venues including Mulligan’s Beach House and Terra Fermata in Stuart, Taco Tiki in Jensen Beach, Brewhouse Gallery in Lake Park, and Rudy’s Pub in Lake Worth. He is now putting together a third band that specializes in Cajun zydeco, a blend of blues and rhythm and blues with Mardi Gras themes. “Seasonal South Florida residents love local live music,” he notes. “We are lucky to have many world-class musicians living right here.”
Born in Battle Creek, Michigan, Squires was drawn to music at an early age. “I have always loved it, ever since listening to classical gems like “War of 1812” that my parents used to play while cleaning our house in Michigan,” he says. When he was 5, he moved to Miami with his divorced mother and older sister to be near his mom’s parents. He recalls he and his sister would sing pop music together for fun at a local roller rink, and he joined the chorus in junior high school. The first time he sang for a real audience was as a student at Southwest Miami High School. “In my last year of high school, I sang in a professional group that performed shows at the big Miami Beach hotels like Eden Roc and Algiers,” he says. I was a master of ceremonies and sang two or three songs.”
In 1970, while studying at Miami Dade College, he auditioned for a madrigal choir of 24 singers with 12 harmony parts and was brought in as a tenor. “That was a coup for me,” he says. “We sang six new pieces at every rehearsal and performed in French, Latin, and English and also did gospel.” Two years into college, he left school to pursue music full-time. He performed with different bands all over Miami and even became an on-air radio personality. He also started acting in theater productions at the Coconut Grove Playhouse, including 140 performances of the 1973 play Equus by Peter Shaffer, and built sets for Italian films and various trade shows.
As happens with many musicians working for the love of the art, however, the cost of living caught up with him. So, in 1982, he decided to leave Miami to go on the road promoting arts organizations (and some sports venues), staying for months at a time in different cities across the country. Eventually, he moved to Long Island, New York to work for the Long Island Philharmonic and Long Island Stage. While in New York, he joined the St. Agnes Cathedral Men and Boys Choir in Rockville Centre, which led him on three European tours singing with the choir at cathedrals, including his esteemed event for the pope. “That tour was a great experience,” he recalls. “I sang tenor, did leads and cantorial work in religious music. It was like guerrilla theater with amazing sound systems.” Throughout it all, he continued to work with his computer clients as well.
Squires’ nomadic lifestyle came to an end in 2014. His mom was suffering from dementia, and he moved to Jupiter to care for her until she passed away last July. He may not have planned to plant roots in town, but in the end, it was meant to be. “I started singing with an old friend who was living in Stuart, then I expanded to perform music with other guys from Stuart,” he says. “It was great therapy for me while caring for Mom, a total escape from the daily stress. Jupiter was very low-key, like old Miami.”
Today, he continues to perform locally and keeps up his side hustle in computer technology. And at 70, there is no slowing down for Squires, who has one more dream he hopes to make a reality. “Down the road, I want to have a large, 12-piece funk group,” he says. “It is my one unrealized ambition.”