Born and raised in South London, Mai was destined for stardom just moments after she took her first breath. Her mother named her Ella after the Queen of Jazz, Ella Fitzgerald. “I think it was by coincidence,” Ella says now. “My brother’s name is Miles, after Miles Davis, but he doesn’t play any instruments anymore. But she did say to my grandma when I was first born, ‘Oh, she better be able to sing.’ But she never pressured me. It was something I enjoyed doing. It kind of just worked out.”
In multiple interviews, Ella Mai names Lauryn Hill, Chris Brown, Brandy, Destiny's Child, Alicia Keys, and Mariah Carey as her biggest influences.Vibe said her “perception of the powerful emotion is kindred to R&B heartthrobs of the ‘90s, who flooded the radio airwaves with soulful ballads, baby-making tunes, and heart-wrenching break-up anthems." Rolling Stone described her sound as "a British émigré full of self-confidence and an affinity for classic Nineties R&B."