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The voice of Macy Gray is a wondrous thing. It can be as intimate as the wee small hours or as exciting as a packed nightclub; disarmingly sweet on one song, harsh and raspy on another. The obvious comparison is to the post-war Billie Holiday, but there are traces of other singers both legendary and little-known: Abbey Lincoln, Betty Davis, Nina Simone, Karen Dalton, Tina Turner. Yet in the end, Macy Gray sounds like no one but herself.
Macy creates a musical mélange of old-school soul, hip-hop, R&B, funk, and rock. She seems to shrug off format, genre, and market.
At the center of this cross-cultural melting pot is Macy Gray. On stage as on record, she cuts a commanding figure among a dozen players, belting out her personal vignettes with smoky passion.
Macy Gray's music grew out of countless jams and listening sessions in living rooms, studios, rehearsal spaces.
The unique blend of straight-up soul and modern hip-hop is a product of Macy's own upbringing. Born and raised in Canton, Ohio, she grew up on her parents' record collection: Sly Stone and James Brown, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder ("I just loved Stevie Wonder"), Aretha Franklin and Patti LaBelle. Her junior high years brought the first wave of hip-hop. Then, during two years at a nearly all-white boarding school, Macy acquired a taste for rock, "because that's all they listened to, and I didn't have my own radio. I was fortunate in that I was open to everything. I just developed a real appreciation for all kinds of music just by being exposed to it."
Macy loved music and had seven years of classical piano training, yet it was years before she ever sang a note in public. In fact, she barely spoke. "When I was little, I had this real funny voice. Every time I talked, the kids would make fun of me – so I stopped talking. Everybody thought I was shy, but really I was self-conscious of my voice. It never occurred to me that I could sing."
Macy moved to Los Angeles to enroll in the screenwriting program of the USC Film School. Eventually she hooked up with a few musician friends, who asked her to help them write lyrics. When it came time to record one of the tunes for which she'd penned the words, the singer didn't show - and Macy was asked to fill in.
When the tape began to circulate, it was Macy's voice that prompted calls. The leader of a jazz band playing the L.A. hotel circuit asked her to join. "I thought he was out of his mind, but I did it because I thought it was good money," she admits. "Sing old jazz standards and Sinatra songs for an hour for a hundred bucks!"
Macy Gray began singing on demo sessions more frequently, making a local name for herself almost by accident. "I really thought these people were all lying to me and that they didn't know what they were talking about, because I was still thinking about the girl who didn't talk! I really didn't think much of it, it was something to do. It became serious when we started doing shows around L.A. at regular venues."
Macy Gray was signed to Epic Records in April, 1998.
Hit songs include --
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