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The singer shares her incredible journey from growing up in poverty to performing at the Grammys

The singer shares her incredible journey from growing up in poverty to performing at the Grammys

It’s difficult to think of an artist who’s as raw and real as Mary Lambert. But she’s also equal parts silly and sweet, which makes sitting down with the Grammy-nominated singer feel like a theraputic heart-to-heart with your BFF. “I was giving concerts to nobody when I was seven years old,” she laughs. “We had this really old piano and I’d sit there for hours playing my one song, and say, ‘Thank you guys so much for coming, my name is Mary Lambert!’”

But Mary’s passion for music stemmed from a painful childhood. “I grew up in an abusive household in pretty serious poverty and I was really quiet and didn’t have any friends,” she explains. “It made me feel like I almost didn’t exist in the world. But I witnessed my mom taking her pain and processing it through songwriting. I could hear her crying at the piano and it was hard to hear, but I got to see her weave her trials and difficulties into something beautiful.”

So Mary decided to mirror her mother and turn her pain into passion as she started writing songs and learning instruments like piano, guitar, and cello. Her professional career would begin at 13, when she opened the phone book and turned to the coffee shop section. “I called every single one and said, ‘Do you need an in-house musician? You don’t have to pay me; I just want to sit and play!’ Everyone was like, ‘No, weirdo!’ And then Starbucks answered and said, ‘You know what? Why don’t you come down and let’s see how this will work.’ I played there every Friday for two years and it was such a gift.”

Eventually, Mary decided she wanted to become a music teacher and moved to Seattle to attend Cornish College of the Arts, where she studied songwriting. During her time as a student, she continued performing both her songs and her poetry at coffee shops and open mic nights, quickly developing a following in the local arts scene. “I graduated and was applying to grad schools and waitressing, trying to figure out what my next move was,” she remembers. “And then I got the call.”

It was a call that would change her life forever: Seattle-based hip-hop duo Macklemore and Ryan Lewis were seeking a chorus for their soon-to-be released equality anthem “Same Love.” Mary, who is openly gay, immediately got to work. “I wanted the gig so badly,” she says. “I’d heard that success is when preparation and opportunity meet, so I wrote four choruses to make sure I got it. We tracked it that night and I went home thinking, ‘What if we go on Ellen doing this?’ And I was like, ‘No, that’s crazy!’ Six months later, we’re on Ellen!”

But Mary’s newest album, Grief Creature, isn’t about being famous or getting nominated for two Grammys; it’s about healing. “If you are dealing with something that feels complicated and you have a hard time talking about it, and you are hoping that there’s something you can listen to or somebody who sings about it, this is that album,” she explains. “And I hope it can be of service to people who need it and are seeking healing in different ways.” 

Listen to Mary discuss all this and more on the latest episode of the YSBnow podcast:

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