Born Natalie McIntyre c. 1970 in Canton, OH; one of four children; daughter of a retired steelworker (father) and an eighth-grade math teacher and school administrator (mother); married Tracy Hinds, a mortgage collector, 1996; divorced, 1998; children (with Hinds): Aanisah, Tahmel, and Cassius. Education: Formal piano training; studied screenwriting at the University of Southern California's film school. Addresses: Record company--Epic Records, 550 Madison Ave., New York City, NY 10022,; Fan club--Macy Gray Fan Club, Attn: C. Darby, P.O. Box 489, Powder Springs, GA 30127 Phone: (212) 333-8000.
In describing the voice of Macy Gray, music critics often draw likenesses to Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Eartha Kitt, Etta James, Janis Joplin, and Tina Turner. However, such comparisons are not entirely accurate, as Gray possess one of the most distinctive voices in popular music. "She is one of the great singers," said critic Anthony DeCurtis, as quoted in People, "because she is immediately identifiable in a sea of people who seem totally interchangeable." Her vocal talent--coupled with a fresh mix of funk, soul, rock, and pop, lyrics that explore sometimes dark territory, and a decidedly hip, stylish sense of fashion--catapulted Gray to stardom in 1999. Her debut album that year, On How Life Is, won over critics and fans alike.
A native of Canton, Ohio, Gray, one of four children, was born Natalie McIntyre, later adopting her stage name as a misguided homage to a hometown neighbor. "Macy Gray was a man who used to come over and shoot pool with my husband," Gray's mother Laura McIntyre, explained to Newsweek contributor Veronica Chambers. "She was always extremely shy, and he would tell her, 'You're going to be something special one day.'"
Gray attributes much of her shyness as a child to her unusual voice. High-pitched and girlish with a subtle rasp, it was a target for teasing throughout her school days. In fact, Gray barely spoke at all around her classmates. "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," she stated, as quoted for the 100% Macy Gray website. "Everybody thought I was shy, but really I was self-conscious of my voice. It never occurred to me that I could sing." Even as an adult, Gray feels uneasy when she speaks. "When I hear myself talk, I always cringe," she said. "It's kind of a trip that everyone finds it so interesting."
Nevertheless, Gray, who displayed an eccentric individuality and creative sense early in life, wanted to be heard. In addition to taking classical piano lessons, Gray expressed herself largely through writing. "She was either writing or playing solitaire," recalled Gray's younger brother Nathon in People magazine. "She used to write short stories [that were] very sophisticated," added friend Therlanda Singleton, who grew up next door. "She always wanted to be a writer or a screenwriter."
Gray's mother and father encouraged their children to aim high. At the age of 14, Gray, a gifted student, won a scholarship to attend a predominately white boarding school where she encountered further taunting because of her race. "Most of the kids had never been around people from other cultures," she recalled to Alison Powell in Interview. "So they would say or do things that weren't always respectful. I don't think they realized it was offensive because they were never exposed to anything other than their own kind of society." But her boarding school experience did enable Gray--who was raised in Canton on a steady diet of soul, R&B, and early hip-hop--to discover rock 'n' roll and pop music. "When I was a kid, rock music was considered white people's music," Gray explained. "Where I went to school, no one listened to it. It wasn't cool, you know? And then I went to boarding school where it was just the opposite."
Eventually, Gray was forced to leave the school, supposedly, according to school officials, for poor grades. Gray, however, noting that her class performance was fine, believes that she was expelled because she said something unfavorable about a school dean. As a senior back home at Canton South High School in 1985, Gray won a college scholarship to the United States Naval Academy, but turned the offer down to enroll at the University of Southern California (USC) to study film. "I had no idea that she had even applied to USC," her mother told People. "I said, 'Natalie, what can you do with film writing in Canton, Ohio?' This is the Football Hall of Fame town, and that's about it. And she answered, 'Mom, I do not intend to be in Canton, Ohio.' I think she pretty much had her mind made up. And she kept it to herself."
In film school, Gray stumbled into what would become her career when a friend asked her to perform with his jazz band. "I thought he was out of his mind," Gray told Boston Globe writer Joan Anderman. "But I figured, hey, maybe my voice was weird for a reason." After departing USC in 1989, a few credits short of a degree, Gray began singing in underground clubs in Los Angeles while continuing to try her hand at writing screenplays. She also worked as a production secretary for Universal and Paramount to help make ends meet.
After establishing herself on the club scene, Gray and fellow musicians organized a late-night club called the "We Ours" in a Hollywood coffee shop. The gathering soon became a local hot spot, with well-known guests such as Tricky, the Roots, and the Black Eyed Peas regularly dropping in. "We had food in the back, and the DJ set up lights. People started getting on the mike and freestyling, and then all of a sudden, people were doing poetry and break dancing. It became a sort of artists' community," Gray recalled to Anderman. Moreover, the We Ours club encouraged Gray to hone her stage presence, as she was forced to pay attention to the audience. "It was small, so if someone yawned or walked out you knew it," Gray added. "You knew what was working and what wasn't."
Gray spent the early 1990s performing and sending out demo tapes, hoping to land a record deal. Although impressed with Gray's sound, most labels were unwilling to take a risk on an artist who did not fit neatly into a marketable package. Finally, in 1994, Gray received an offer from Atlantic Records and promptly dubbed herself "Macy Gray." In 1996, Gray married mortgage collector Tracy Hinds. The couple already had two children: daughter Aanisah, born c. 1990, and son Tahmel, born c. 1991. But in August of 1997, Gray and Hinds separated; she was seven months pregnant with her third child, a daughter named Cassius, at the time. In July of the following year, Gray filed for divorce.
Gray, prior to her divorce, was dropped by Atlantic, which decided not to release her debut album. She retreated to her parents home in Canton, believing that her music career was over, and enrolled in classes to secure a teaching certificate. Then, a Los Angeles-based music publisher named Jeff Blue, who had heard Gray's unreleased album tape, talked her into meeting him in New York City for recording sessions. In November of 1997, she cut a solo demo that Blue distributed to major labels under the pseudonym "Mushroom" to guard against any industry bias.
In April of 1998, Gray signed a deal with Epic Records. In June of that year, she began recording On How Life Is, for which she wrote her own lyrics, with producer Andrew Slater--known for his efforts with Fiona Apple and the Wallflowers--at various Hollywood studios. Other participants in the project included Gray's writing partners, programmer Darryl Swann and keyboardist Jeremy Ruzumna, guitarist Arik Marshall (formerly a member of the Red Hot Chili Peppers), DJ Kiilu Beckwith (Gray's boyfriend), guitarist and keyboardist Jon Brion, and drummer Matt Chamberlain.
Released in the summer of 1999, the neo-soul On How Life Is, containing the hit singles "I Try," "Why Didn't You Call Me," and "Still," earned critical raves, eventually reached the Billboard Top Five, and went multi-platinum in the United States and Great Britain. Soon to follow was a string of television appearances, live shows (including a gig opening for Carlos Santana in the summer of 2000), guest spots on other artists' records, and award nominations. In 2000, Gray was nominated for two Grammy Awards: Best New Artist and Best Female Vocal R&B Performance for On How Life Is. That same year, she took home an MTV Video Music Award for Best New Artist, an LA Weekly Music Award for Best New Artist, and two BRIT Awards for Best International Newcomer and Best International Female Artist. In 2001, Gray earned a Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for "I Try," the hit song also nominated in two other categories.
by Laura Hightower
Macy Gray's Career
Performed at underground clubs in Los Angeles, CA, organized own club, We Ours, with fellow musicians, early 1990s; signed with Atlantic Records, 1994; subsequently dropped by label; signed to Epic Records, 1998; released On How Life Is, 1999.
Macy Gray's Awards
LA Weekly Music Award for Best New Artist, BRIT Awards for Best International Newcomer and Best International Female Artist, 2000; Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for "I Try," 2001.
- Selected discography
- "I Try," Sony, 1999.
- On How Life Is , Epic, 1999.
- Compilations and appearances
- (The Black Eyed Peas) Behind the Front , 1998.
- (Fatboy Slim) Halfway Between the Gutter and the Stars , featured on "Demons," Astralwerks, 2000.
- (With Rosie O'Donnell, the Dixie Chicks, Jessica Simpson, Ricky Martin, and others) Another Rosie Christmas , Columbia, 2000.
July 15, 2003: Gray's album, Trouble With Being Myself, is released. Source: Yahoo! Shopping, shopping.yahoo.com/shop?d=product&id=1921971350, July 16, 2003.
- Atlanta Journal-Constitution, January 27, 2000.
- Billboard, July 3, 1999; September 11, 1999; May 6, 2000.
- Boston Globe, September 9, 1999; January 28, 2000; December 5, 2000.
- Ebony, September 1999.
- Entertainment Weekly, July 30, 1999.
- Essence, July 2000.
- Fortune, August 16, 1999.
- Interview, March 2000.
- Los Angeles Times, May 26, 2000; July 1, 2000; July 2, 2000.
- Melody Maker, October 16, 1999.
- Newsweek, August 2, 1999.
- People, August 30, 1999; March 12, 2001.
- Rolling Stone, August 31, 2000; December 14-21, 2000.
- US Weekly, November 13, 2000; December 11, 2000.
- USA Today, January 8, 2001.
- Washington Post, December 27, 1998; August 8, 1999; August 15, 1999.
- Macy Gray Official Website, http://www.macygray.com (March 23, 2001).
- 100% Macy Gray, http://www.2tup.com/gl/ (March 23, 2001).