as a small child, macy gray's affinity for music was obvious; what was not readily apparent was that her destiny would lead to her becomming a vocalist. a student of classical piano for some seven years, gray was a quiet child who was reluctant to speak in public. she explains, "when i was little, i had this really 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." years later, gray would learn never to say never as college friendships would result in a debut album.
attending the screenwriting program of the university of southern california, gray penned some lyrics as a favor for some musician friends of hers. "when it came time to record the lyrics," she expalined to vibe magazine, "the singer didn't show up, so i sang instead." as the jazzy demo made the rounds in los angeles, the positive feedback it received focused not only on the musicians, but also upon the enchanting vocals for which they created the backdrop. at first, gray was reticent to accept the group's invitation to join, as she had little confidence in her vocal abilities, but the starving college student in her convinced her to accept the relatively high-paying gigs. "i thought he was out of his mind," gray asserts, "but i did it because i thought it was good money sing old jazz standards and sinatra songs for an hour for a hundred bucks!". though she enjoyed singing with the band, and continued to do so for years, her participation in performances spoke more about her love of music and desire for financial gain, than about an increased confidence in herself as a singer. as more and more of her demos with the band began to create more and more of a buzz, gray was still reluctant to believe that she had talent as a vocalist. "i really thought these people were all lying to me, "she recalls, "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."
in april of 1998, gray was signed to epic records and was in the studio two months later, recording her debut album, on how life is. teamed with producer andrew slater (fiona apple, the wallflowers) and backed by a band comprised largely of her collaborators and friends, gray is well-positioned to acheive widespread recognition with her label squarely behind her. with her album not set to release until august 1999, gray will have already undergone a seven-month promotional campaign that has included stints at los angeles' viper room (the exceptional reviews of which led to an extended national tour including new york, atlanta, washington, d.c., chicago and san francisco), promotional mailers sent to select djs and college radio stations, and articles and review in such high-profile magazines as vibe,, newsweek and people. ceci kurzman, epic's vp of worldwide marketing, summed up the high regard in which the label holds gray in the 3 july 1999 issue of billboard magazine by saying, "this isn't an easily categorized album or artist. it's unique, refresing and ultimately universal. macy is precisely the kind of artist the industry needs right now."
in addition to the behind-the-scenes media blitz that's taking place around macy gray's eminent debut, her first video, for the call-to-action anthem "do something", has already been shipped to bet and mtv, showing her to be everything her record label proponents claim her to be, and more. with a style that is similar to other current r&b/rock fusion divas such as cherokee, cree summer, nicole reneé and melky jean, macy gray stands poised on the brink of a considerable challenge. though she may have fallen accidentally into her current career, she will have to fight if she wants to be heard above the competition and by those who may not yet be ready to allow today's black female vocalist to free herself from the stereotype of the r&b soulstress or the pistol-packing rap gangstress. but really, what becomes a diva more than a considerable challenge.