I sing without thinking. It comes as naturally to me as the sun rising. Using my voice to make music is a part of who I am, and I feel as though I was born to sing. I’ve had a dream to be a professional singer since I could remember that was actually a thing.
The first time I remember ever singing in public is when I was two years old at my grandparents church in Ashland, Mississippi. As a child, I was naturally an outgoing person and enjoyed singing in choirs and church bands, but as I got older, the plague of stage fright became worse; The shaking hands, shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat and cracking voice happened any time I was assigned to sing a solo. Let me tell you, that only goes away with practice, and thankfully my love of singing outweighed my fear of mistakes and what people would think of my imperfections. I pushed through, stage fright and all.
When I first began singing in music venues, one of the first things I noticed is that it was definitely a boy’s club. I had a great group of supportive people around me in my co-writing team, management team and band members that were like brothers and uncles to me. Thankfully, I have never experienced anything but the utmost respect from every one of them.
At the time, I was still unaware of what I was missing: mentorship. It’s like it had never occurred to me how badly I needed a community of women until I went to see two legendary Memphis female singers Reba Russell and Susan Marshall. As the soulful notes of Aretha Franklin’s “Do Right Woman” flowed out of their duet, it seemed completely effortless. I was in awe; tears welling, lump-in-the-throat, emotional awe. I HAD to meet them. Susan Marshall ultimately became my vocal coach. She helped me grow exponentially as a performer by helping me ditch my shell and be the singer, apparently everyone but me, knew I could be.
Reba Russell once posted to Facebook the very recording of “Do Right Woman” I had the immense privilege of being present for. I added the comment: “Amazing. I want to be on that level.” To which Reba responded, “Rachel, you already are.”
These women became my mentors and introduced me to the small but growing community of women in the Memphis music scene. While they all have their horror stories of being talked down to, dismissed, disrespected, treated as less than and treated highly inappropriately, they remained strong and never let that stop them. I’m grateful for the way they paved. Times are changing. In my experience, women are vehemently supporting other women rather than treating each other as competition. Many men are treating women as equals and respecting them as talented musicians rather than diminishing us to token side shows or eye candy. Do we still have a way to go? Absolutely. I don’t know if we will ever live in a world where every human shows respect to other humans, but one can hope.
So ladies, work hard and live your dream. The world needs more of you in music.
I’ll be there to welcome you and support you along the way.
Author: Rachel Wise
Author Bio: A Mississippi native, Rachel Wise grew up listening to an eclectic collection of music from heavy metal to classical to contemporary Christian. Being born into a musical family, she made her public singing debut at the age of two at her grandparents small church in Ashland, MS. Since then, she has been involved in various choirs and worship bands for most of her life. She broke into the Memphis Music scene in the fall of 2012, when she began her songwriting career. She and her songwriting team began crafting her signature sound.