Elana James grew up in Prairie Village, Kansas and began playing Suzuki violin at age four. Her mother is a professional violinist who used to play in the Kansas City Symphony. It took James almost twenty years to decide between the violin and the fiddle, but in her mid-twenties, after much soul searching, James found her calling in American roots music and has never looked back.
In 2006, performing with the Hot Club of Cowtown, James had the honor of representing the US State Department as a Musical Ambassador throughout Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan playing everything from Texas hoedowns to American Songbook standards. Most recently, in July 2011, she was again in invited by the US State Department to perform at the Khareef Festival in Salalah, Oman, and also in the capital city of Muscat. She has been a featured guest on A Prairie Home Companion, the Grand Ol’ Opry, the Women in Jazz series at Jazz at Lincoln Center, and, with the Hot Club of Cowtown, at festivals and concerts throughout the world, including the Glastonbury Festival in England, the Fuji Rock Festival in Japan, Australia’s Byron Bay Blues and Roots Festival, the Rochester Jazz Festival, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival the Kennedy Center’s Millenium Stage and the Cambridge Folk Festival.
In 2005 James became the first dedicated female instrumentalist in Bob Dylan’s touring band in more than thirty years, then toured with him in 2006 as the opening act for his United States summer tour. In addition to tours and recording with Bob Dylan, James has also recorded with Willie Nelson, Ray Price, and Merle Haggard to name only a few and has recorded nine CDs with the Hot Club of Cowtown. In 2004 she was inducted, with her Hot Club band mates, into the Texas Western Swing Hall of Fame.
James holds a B.A., cum laude, in Comparative Religion from Barnard College, Columbia University, in New York and also studied violin and viola at the Manhattan School of Music as a student of Lucie Robert and Karen Ritscher. She is also a veteran horse wrangler and world traveler. After collge James studied Dhrupad, an early form of North Indian Classical music, with Pandit Vidhur Malik in Brindavan, India. Editorial jobs in New York City in the 1990s were punctuated by several summers in Colorado where James worked as a horse packer and wrangler and played fiddle in a cowboy band. These combined interests culminated in her co-founding the Hot Club of Cowtown, the globe-trotting Western swing power trio, with guitarist Whit Smith in 1997. James is an alumnus of the Meadowmount School of Music, the New York Youth Symphony, The Columbia University Chamber Music Program, the New York String Orchestra Seminar with Alexander Schneider and the American Conservatory in Fontainebleau, France. She lives in Austin, Texas.