Gracie

When Gracie performed last spring as part of The Great Canadian Songbook at Meaford Hall the audience was charmed by her poise and stage presence as well as her vocal prowess.  She has a certain star quality that radiated from her enthusiasm on stage.  We didn’t realize at the time that her career as a singer has just very recently lifted off the runway, and that her performance that evening meant as much to her as it did to us.

“People here really do appreciate talent,” she says delightedly.

This confident and compelling vocalist whose delivery is a blend of early influences Amy Winehouse and Celine Dion began as a head banger.  “I wanted to be just like Randy Rhodes, except not die in a plane crash,” she says, referring to the legendary Ozzy Osbourne and Quiet Riot guitarist who was being acclaimed for his unique heavy metal style at the time of his premature death. “I wanted to play guitar like him.”  She had already had piano lessons and, having discovered heavy metal, she borrowed her father’s cheap electric guitar and took lessons for two years with a sympathetic teacher who would prepare charts for the songs she preferred to learn.

At first her main goal in life was to become a soccer player, to reach the Olympic level, but music gradually elbowed that ambition aside. She wanted to be in the school jazz band, playing guitar, but her teacher Mr. Harkin, while encouraging her talent, wanted better players than she was at the time, players who could read notation.  Finally near the end of high school she achieved a place in the band, as the main guitar player.

After school she jammed with friends and,with her boyfriend, a heavy metal drummer, wrote some songs with metal riffs.  “He also loved funk and jazz,” she says, “so we would get into that.  I realized I liked playing blues scales.  I changed my style up along the way.”

Now focused on music as a career, she applied to the music program at York University and, as a strategic move, auditioned for jazz vocals rather than guitar.  “I didn’t think I’d get in if I played guitar, but I knew I had vocal ability.  I wanted to be a musician.  For the auditions, you have to pick a few songs that are in contrast to each other.  I just didn’t have the chops, so I thought I would just sing.”

Through university her rebellious nature gradually gave way to an appreciation of what her profs were saying and her world expanded under the tutelage of Sasha Williamson, for two years her vocal teacher,  “amazing person and friend”.

Anxious to get out into the real world of music, she heard from a friend about Tom Barlow’s Monday night jam at The Shore Grille and Grotto in Port Credit, so she made the pilgrimage down the road from her home in Oakville.  She sang “Walking On The Moon”, the Police song.  “The band was amazing and the people were nice. Tom introduced me to a community of people.”  It opened the doors.  “I quit school to perform, thought I could be successful in that area.” She performed under her full name, Mary Grace Marino.  Opportunities have blossomed since and she has become simply Gracie.

Chris Scerri, when he lived in Port Credit, was also in regular attendance at Tom Barlow’s jam.  When he worked up the courage he would join the band on stage.  As things evolved, Tom and members of his band became the core of the band that played The Great Canadian Songbook at Meaford Hall.  And musical director Tyler Yarema has provided accompaniment for Gracie with several visits to Meaford since.

Now Tom Barlow has a new record out that is garnering critical acclaim, and Gracie adds backing vocals.  She hints at some surprises for the upcoming Rockin’ The Hall show on Dec. 3rd(see sidebar for link to tickets). “I’m excited to see the reactions of the people,” she says.

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2 Responses to Gracie

  1. Gillian says:

    I absolutely love the detail you give us about all these musicians’ lives, Bill. I’m so tired of reading about artists/musicians/actors who “somehow” play a big stage or get a big part out of, apparently, nowhere. To make this long comment even longer, I’d like to share a quote from Lewis Hyde’s book, The Gift, that I think you (and Chris)will like:
    For the slow labour of realizing a potential gift the artist must retreat to those Bohemias, halfway between the slums and the library, where life is not counted by the clock and where the talented may be sure they will be ignored until that time, if it ever comes, when their gifts are viable enough to be set free and survive in the world.

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