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Grace's gospel

By LISA JONES TOWNSEL

May 19, 2011

Wauwatosa native Grace Weber has shared her talents on "Showtime at the Apollo," "The Today Show," and "The Oprah Winfrey Show," as well as at theKennedy Center and the Ella Awards.


Grace Weber’s voice is like the "Sparrows" she sings about on the title cut of her most recent EP: feathery soft, lilting and full of soul.

Yet it may have never been realized had she not joined the Inner City Youth Gospel Choir in Milwaukee when she was 12. The Wauwatosa native and 2006 Pius XI High School grad says ever since she could remember, she’s wanted to sing, and she did – in the family basement, kitchen and car. In fact, she was particularly drawn to the voices of Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, Mariah Carey, Eva Cassidy and India.Arie.

But it was her time with the Milwaukee-based gospel chorus that sharpened her chops and deepened her appreciation for soulful music. "It was a huge dream of mine to join a gospel choir. Growing up in Wauwatosa, I didn’t know if choirs like the ones in the ‘Sister Act’ movies were in Milwaukee.

"Then one day on a retreat in sixth grade, my teacher announced that our special guest would be this choir. They entered the room and sang. I knew that this was what I wanted to be a part of," Weber says during a phone interview from New York City. "I went up to the choir director and said, ‘Could I sing for you guys?’ Then I sang ‘Amazing Grace’ in the most soulful voice that I could drum up. It took two months to convince my mother to drive me to the rehearsals in the city, but I told her this was something I had to do."

Four years of soulful tutelage took Weber to churches and revivals about the city and helped produce the mature sound that won her honors. By age 16 she performed on "Showtime at the Apollo" at Harlem’s Apollo Theater. At 18, she sang at the Kennedy Center and was named a Presidential Scholar by the National Foundation for the Advancement in the Arts. At 20, she was touring and recording as part of the Grace Weber Band. At 21, in November 2009, she appeared on Oprah Winfrey’s Karaoke Challenge, where Winfrey handpicked Weber from among thousands to appear on the show. And last year, at 22, Weber graduated from New York University (bachelor’s degree in music performance and music marketing), became a Billboard "Spotlight Artist to Watch," and worked on her debut solo album (due for release in June) with Grammy Award-winning producer Mike Mangini.

Although most of her time is now spent in the Big Apple, Weber is always happy to return home. "I miss my family a lot. I have three siblings. My mom and dad are there … And my sister just had a baby," says Weber, who now has a manager, a website and a calendar full of gigs. "I love New York, but I feel lucky to get to go home to Milwaukee, to calm down a bit."

 

 


This story ran in the April 2011 issue of: