Grammy Nominee MAIYSHA

July 2, 2010 10:09:44 AM PDT
Grammy-nominated singer Maiysha now lives and works in New York. But many of us at ABC7 Chicago watched her growing up, as she visited her mom, one of our colleagues in the newsroom. We followed Maiysha's successful career as a top Ford model and her transition to full-time singer and songwriter. We saw her adopt a healthier lifestyle and drop 60 pounds, ending her days as a plus-size model and boosting her performing career. A progressive soul singer, Maiysha is now promoting her new live album, UnderCover that was released last month. The release comes on the heels of her recent signing a multi-album deal for distribution in France and Canada.

UnderCover was recorded live during a special performance at the prestigious Blue Note Jazz Club in New York last January. It's the second full-length collaboration between Maiysha and Grammy award-winning producer and Eusonia founder Scott Jacoby. The album features her reinterpretation of seven covers, all much-loved songs by artists that have greatly influenced her work. Key tracks include Hendrix's "If 6 was 9", Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game" and Bad Company's "Feel Like Making Love."

"As my live show developed, I found myself integrating more and more covers into my sets," says Maiysha. "I was trained to sing jazz, so reinterpreting known songs is always a treat for me, and I found that my audiences delighted in it as well. As an indie artist, it's often been difficult to tour and reach my growing fan base, so I decided - along with my producer, Scott Jacoby - to bring the live experience to them."

Maiysha has been getting noticed since the August 2008 release of her debut album This Much is True on Eusonia Records The album mixes hip hop rhythms with jazz and funk, and includes "Sledgehammer," a rock classic from Peter Gabriel. Now based in Brooklyn, Maiysha has appeared on BET's The Monique Show and in publications like Ebony, Essence, Newsweek and USA Today. Her first single "Wanna Be" landed a 2009 Grammy nomination in the Best Urban/Alternative Performance category.

The daughter of an attorney and a TV journalist, Maiysha grew up as a self-described "Cosby kid. I have no shame about it," she says, "to the extent that my parents even nicknamed me Denise, because I was a little quirky, with weird outfits and big hair."

Maiysha's parents divorced when she was three, so she split her time between Chicago and Minneapolis. "I learned to sing in the backseat of my mother's car," she says. "My mom's favorite memory is me sitting in my car seat asking to hear 'brown Natalie,' which was my toddler's way of saying Natalie Cole. So I was raised on all this great late-'70s and early-'80s pop and R&B, which I'm sure is obvious in my music now. For me, it was always those iconic voices like Chaka Khan, Donna Summer and Diana Ross--although I don't consider myself a 'diva'--in addition to Stevie Wonder and Prince."

During the time she spent in Minneapolis, her father, a former college DJ, handpicked vinyl from his extensive collection to play for her and introduced her to cutting-edge artists like Gil Scott Heron and the Last Poets. "He wasn't a musician himself, but he showed me what can be communicated through music," she adds.

Maiysha caught the performing bug early on. At 12, she got her first starring role as Dorothy in a school production of The Wiz. "I was really shy-- I was never one of those kids who sang in the street-- but something would happen to me when I'd get onstage, inhabit a character and sing those songs," she says. "It was something that was easy and really joyful for me."

Maiysha attended prestigious Sarah Lawrence College in New York, where she studied vocal performance as well as creative writing and race and gender studies. It was during her undergraduate years that she delved into the nuances of vocal greats like Billie Holiday and Nina Simone. "Those experiences really opened me up in terms of my musical taste making me braver in exploring my sound," she explains. "And because I was writing so much, I also gained confidence in expressing myself."

After graduation, she taught for two years at a Manhattan private school while also taking some modeling jobs. "It was a way of paying off my student loans," she says, downplaying what has turned into a very successful career. Maiysha, who admits struggling with an eating disorder for most of her life, became a much sought-after plus size model. After several years as the "face of Lane Bryant," Maiysha decided to audition as a back-up singer for a local band; before long she was fronting the group. "It wasn't a serious band, but it was an important step for me, because it gave me back my confidence," she says.


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