Stevie Mackey Shares How God, Lalah Hathaway & Faith-Inspired His Passion For Music
Vocal coach Stevie Mackey spoke to us about balancing being Seventh-Day Adventist with his love of music and breaking into Lalah Hathaway’s show.
If the name Stevie Mackey is unfamiliar to you, it might be because he’s the man behind some of your favorite singers (or you just don’t watch competitive singing TV shows). The popular vocal coach from sunny Los Angeles, California has spent the past 10 seasons helping to hone and tone the voices of the next generation of singers as part of NBC’s The Voice. He’s also entrenched himself in the lives of many established artists such as Lenny Kravitz, Kelly Rowland, Selena Gomez, and Jennifer Lopez, to name a few.
His reputation as a man who can make magic is legendary within many music circles. It was one of the main reasons why the Oakwood University graduate was specifically picked to host the official Jesus Christ Superstar Gospel Brunch, which was pegged to the live performance NBC aired with John Legend earlier this month. Stevie, who opened up his home and backyard stage for his talented friends, engaged in a freestyle singing session, and singer Amber Riley had praise fans waving feverously as she sang her rendition of the gospel classic Total Praise.
Shortly after the event, we reached out to Stevie to help us hit the home stretch on our FAITH + RELIGION theme for the month of April. He shared with us his time, kind words, and shared some stories about how his faith imbued his passion for music, how God helped him to balance the secular with the spiritual, and why breaking into a Lalah Hathaway show helped to set his career into the stratosphere.
Okayplayer: When did you first find yourself rooted in the Lord and how did that correlate to your passion for music?
Stevie Mackey: Well I always thought music was my first love until I got to know the one who created it! For as long as I can remember my spiritual walk has always been associated closely with music. From childhood to high school plays to doing it professionally, music has brought me closer to God again and again. And my entire family sings so I didn’t think I had much of a choice. I think our talents offer each of us a unique path to getting to know God for ourselves.
OKP: There is always that thin line between the spiritual and the secular (ex. Marvin Gaye, Prince) and it is hard to separate the two. How do you manage that relationship and what obstacles did you overcome in positing yourself as a vocal coach in an industry rife with different personalities?
SM: There are always different lines in music and sometimes those lines can be a bit blurry. Just like there are appropriate times for different conversations in life, there are appropriate times for different types of songs. I think spiritual songs have priority because they have the power to change lives.
But as a [vocal] coach I get to see the spiritual side of many artists, I get to pray with them and get to know what’s in their heart. People would be surprised!
OKP: The story goes that you talked your way backstage and sung for Lalah Hathaway, correct? For any like-minded individual who hopes to do the same, what advice can you offer that will help one slip past security?
SM: [Laughs] That’s actually true! My advice would be to stay with the music! Go as close to your dream as you can get. I remember driving to a Lalah Hathaway concert with barely enough money for gas much less a concert ticket. But I parked in the back of the venue and just sat in the car and waited to see if I could meet some of the band. I didn’t realize I knew her drummer at the time, Benita, who came out and invited me to meet Lalah and I got to sing for her. I ended up singing backup for her at the Long Beach Jazz Festival that year. That whole situation gave me so much confidence at a time in my life when I needed it.
OKP: Not trying to advocate trespassing, but you have literally broken into the game and made an impact while remaining dutiful to your faith. As an SDA member how has your faith and spirituality helped you to not only navigate this industry but to not lose your sense of self and be trapped by d’evils that are lurking around the game’s corners?
SM: It’s actually not difficult being a Seventh-Day Adventist Christian in my field, in fact, I can’t think of any other industry with this many Sabbath keeping vegans [laughs]. The entertainment industry is filled with good and bad just like any other industry, but the publicity of being in entertainment brings many things to the light that wouldn’t make news in other fields.
OKP: You were the host for NBC’s Jesus Christ Superstar brunch this past Easter Sunday, correct? How did the network approach you for the opportunity? What were some memorable moments that you experienced there that you will not forget? Lastly, can you talk about your thoughts on Jesus Christ Superstar and your favorite part of the live TV showing?
SM: I was asked by Darren from Allied Moxy if I’d be interested in doing a gospel-style brunch to help promote Jesus Christ Superstar and I thought it was such a fresh way to bring awareness of the musical to actual musicians and music lovers. I reached out to singers and musicians and we put together some acoustic arrangements of some of my favorite songs from the musical and tied them into some all-time gospel favorites. My favorite moment was seeing the customized church fans waving in the air when Amber Riley would hit a high note! My favorite part of the production was the last scene where John Legend, as Jesus, was on the cross and the camera zooms out slowly. It was a perfect blend of cinematic magic and live theater.
OKP: Last question, we are in a time full of turmoil, as our leaders are seemingly corrupt, those sworn to protect us are not doing anything like that and even our environment has turned its back on us (snow in April, c’mon?!). With so much going on what can music (gospel, secular, whatever) do to soothe the savage beast? Is there any hope for salvation on Earth through human efforts? Or do you think leaving it all up to the Divine is appropriate?
SM: Faith without our work is ultimately dead, so it’s up to us to keep sharing the good news and good music to everyone. The divine will always be our strength. Music is definitely medicine and can do a lot for the world in these trying times.