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.
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
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."