How Macy Gray became a legendary soul singer by accident

Get the latest from Beat


How Macy Gray became a legendary soul singer by accident

Macy Gray
Words by Dhika Maheswara

What started as a romantic interest for a jazz player, turned Macy Gray into a musical giant in American neo-soul history. Take a look back at Macy Gray's legendary career on the 25th anniversary of her debut.

Natalie Renée McIntyre’s boyfriend in film school was a member of a jazz band. At the time, she had no clue about the special talent residing in her and was more concerned with spending time with her partner. But after writing songs together and eventually being invited to play in the band, her romantic interest accidentally became the genesis of a transformation from Natalie Renee McIntrye to one of America’s most important soul singers, famously known by the stage name of Macy Gray.

After graduating in 1989, music became a huge passion of hers. Years of grinding in the 90s, singing in underground clubs,  handing out demo tapes and even a failed record deal in 1994, eventually led to an agreement with Epic Records in 1998, which would soon become a pivotal moment in her life.

The 25th anniversary of On How Life Is

  • 7:30pm, Sunday July 7
  • Hamer Hall, Arts Centre Melbourne
  • Get Tickets HERE

Keep up with the latest music news, features, festivals, interviews and reviews here.

When Macy burst off the scene in 1999, everything about her was a breath of fresh air including her public persona, the music videos and of course, the distinct rich raspy voice that reminded audiences of Billie Holiday and Nina Simone. Her second single I Try received a Grammy award for best pop vocal performance, competing with the likes of Christina Aguilera, Joni Mitchell, Madonna, Aimee Mann and Britney Spears in that category.

She is celebrating 25 years of the project that started it all this year. Her debut album On How Life Is is a marvellous collection of songs considered one of the best of the neo-soul genre, even now. On Sunday, July 7, Melbourne will be blessed with the sweet soul music of Macy, as she takes the stage to sing every track from the LP in sequential order, as well as other hits from her catalogue.

Executively produced by Andrew Slater, the album itself is a beautiful amalgamation of smooth soul elegance, funk-inspired arrangements, and live instrumentation that will get you strutting your stuff throughout its 45-minute runtime.

Macy Gray’s impassioned, whisky voice

The real crux of the album though, comes from the emotional strength Macy puts in her impassioned whisky voice. Having just gone through a divorce before its release, On How Life Is has the Ohio singer talking about the highs and lows of her past love, as well as overcoming that devastation. I Still, Caligula and I’ve Committed Murder are brilliant examples of the singer’s ability to turn heartbreak into gorgeous lyrics and melodies that listeners deeply resonate with.

The artist’s talent and dedication to her craft compounded into an amazing album run that followed in the 2000s which earned her an enormous global fanbase. Her second and third albums, The Id and The Trouble with Being Myself each had radio hits both in the US and the UK, and even landed her cameo roles in movies such as Spiderman, Training Day and Scary Movie 3.

After a four-year hiatus, Macy released her fourth album Big in 2007 which was considered a triumphant comeback that contained some of her best work to date. She takes on a more dynamic approach to the singing, brilliantly moving melodies over an excellent mixed bag of rap, funk and soul executively produced by It also featured collaborations with Natalie Cole, Fergie and Justin Timberlake.

Gray’s major staying-power

In the 2010s, She remained a prominent figure in pop music, landing a Billboard Hot 100 with the Black Eyed Peas and also collaborating with the likes of Fatboy Slim and Ariana Grande. Her singing influence could also be seen in modern pop and RnB acts such as Lizzo, Janelle Monáe and Solange.

Her RnB voice had always been Macy’s main forte, but what made her so impactful was the strong desire to venture beyond her element. Her 2016 album Stripped is a perfect showcase of this, as she takes on a more jazz-inspired direction with her music. Gentle and laid-back renditions of her material, as well as a handful of covers have the soul singer singing with a beautiful sway and swagger. It was simplistic on the surface, yet conveyed enough emotion to make you dance with tears in your eyes. Macy’s courageous efforts to go outside of her comfort zone and push the boundaries of soul music were positively received by critics and received some of her best reviews ever.

As the years went by, Macy became more involved in speaking out about issues outside of her art. Her latest album The Reset was released just last year and has her at the most authentic and bold, with songs like Cop Killer, Mercy and America unapologetically revealing an honest exasperation on the important societal and racial problems faced in the United States.

Looking back, Macy’s career has been nothing short of magnificent. Releasing 10 albums that make up for a strong and divergent body of work, as well as putting her footprints in modern American singers, the singer’s musical journey and discography as a whole have cemented her as a major pioneer in modern pop music history.

For tickets before they sell out, head here.

This article was made in partnership with Arts Centre Melbourne.