My mother used to give piano lessons to the neighborhood children for fifty-cents per lesson. Yes, fifty cents! I used to listen while playing in the corner. One day, when no one was at the piano, I opened one of the books that mother used to teach out of, and began playing the songs! I didn't even realize that I understood how to read the notes. I remembered the right hand, "Every Good Boy Does Fine" and "F A C E". I remembered the left hand, "Good Boys Do Fine Always" and "All Cows Eat Grass". So in the second grade, I sat there and taught myself how to play the notes in that beginner music book.
I figured out how to play triads on my own, and taught myself a song I had heard, titled, "Jesus My Rock". Then I began singing it. When it was discovered that I could play and sing that song, I was asked to sing it at church. I was scared but I did it! Later, other churches began asking me to come and to play and sing "Jesus My Rock". It wasn't very good, but during those days, it was amazing to those who heard this young black girl singing and playing the piano in the second grade. Later, I learned the song, "Jesus Wants Me For a Sunbeam". That was my next singing song sensation (not on the piano, however).
In middle school, I enrolled in the band and began to learn to play the clarinet. My mother wanted me to start playing for Sunday School. I started playing, but quit immediately after my cousins and other kids began laughing at me when I got up to walk to the front to play. They made "Boom . . . boom . . . boom. . . boom" sounds with their mouths as I walked, bullying me because of my weight. I was inconsolable and didn't play any longer.
When I reached High School, I enrolled in band class and began playing the trombone. I liked the trombone, however, it made my lips swell really badly and I looked like I had two plums sitting on my face! In all of that, I still wanted to learn to increase my piano skills. I don't know to this day why I just didn't ask mother to teach me. I could play by "ear", but I never really progressed very far from the little girl phenomenon I had become. So, my father found me a piano teacher and I was so excited. I studied with him for about six months before he suddenly passed away. That was the end of my piano lessons. I stayed in the band and switched instruments to the alto saxophone.
I played the saxophone until I finished High School. I started slimming down some and began playing for my church. I also formed a singing group (Trinity) with my sister Charlene and my friend, Claude Books. We called him Junebug! We went around singing on many programs and in churches throughout the community! My dream was to become a "World Famous Gospel Singer". During this time, my father was the director of the youth choir at church. One day he asked me to direct the choir. I had never done it before, but I did it, and became the choir director from that day until I left for college.
For my singing group "Trinity", I used to "make up" songs. That's what we called it. I didn't know the term "songwriting" back then. I didn't know that I had a gift! By the time I turned 17, there was a teen-age pageant that came to LeHigh, Florida. I told some of my friends about the contest and they encouraged me to enter it. I never thought I could win because I was overweight. I have been overweight for most of my life.
I entered the pageant. Part of the pageant was the talent competition, of which we had to write a 100 word essay on, "What's Right About America". We were told that we could present it any way we desired, but in a way that would showcase our talent(s). I had no clue what to do. I prayed and asked God to please give me what to do. That very night, I dreamed the words and melody to "What's Right About America", and it was 100 words exactly. I was shocked. I got up and wrote the lyrics down, and learned to sing it.
At the pageant, it was time for the talent competition! I doubted myself very much, especially after seeing how some of the girls had used their talents to showcase their essay. Some were ventriloguist, others, dancers, painters, poets etc. I felt so embarrassed. All I had was me and my voice. I literally wanted to back out! Well, it was my turn. I sang my acapella essay and won first place! I could hardly believe it! I actually won! I also placed in the semi-finalist in the pageant as well as winning, "Miss Congeniality"! Talking about shocked! Me, the big, fat, tall, black girl came away a winner! It was unbelievable!
I still didn't know that I had a gift. I would dream songs all the time, but while dreaming, it felt that they were songs I already knew, so I didn't them any attention. I'm glad I paid attention to the essay! I Thank God that I was able to remember it and to write it down. That was the key right there. Yet, the ability to write songs still had not become 'known' to me.
At 19, I enrolled at the University of South Florida, I studied Music Education. It was there that I met an Evangelist named Rev. Henry Porter. They would call him, "Brother Porter". He had the most beautiful Gospel songs that I had ever heard. The more his group sang, the more I desired to, "Write songs like that"! One day, "Brother Porter and Westcoast" came to the University, and he shared his testimony of how he would hear music in his ear, like someone turned on the radio. He really had my interest then. I asked many questions. He finally told me to sleep with a pen and paper beside my bed and a tape recorder; and when I would dream the songs, to wake up and write them down, and record it. My slow brain was beginning to realize that I already had the gift that I was desiring!
I now began looking forward to dreaming new songs, and nothing happened! It was crazy. No dreams, no songs, no nothing! What used to be an all the time occurrence, and something that I thought "everybody had", and nothing. I didn't dream any music anymore at all, until one beautiful morning in September, I was coming out of sleep into consciousness, and I could hear the most beautiful music, the melody and the words to the song, "In Your Presence". I was so excited! This time, when I woke up, the song was still literally playing in my head. It was no longer just in my dreams. I was wide awake and I could hear the song inside of my ears (like wearing a headphone). I wrote it down and kept singing it; I hurried out of the shower and got to the church to prepare the choir for the worship service. I actually taught them the song and we sang it that morning. I realized finally that I had the "gift of music". I recorded "In Your Presence" with the youth choir of the church, and it's on my debut album.
I later went on to record Bishop Henry Porter and the Westcoast Gospel Chorus of Florida, a live recording featuring the late Rev. Timothy Wright in 1992. I had great faith, and I learned what to do. I recorded other albums for Bishop Porter and other indie artist. I became a music publisher. I started out as a print music publisher first. I also formed my own record label Jewelstone Records which I released my debut album on.
Although I did increase my skill level with my piano playing, God used my mediocre piano skill, along with my singing and I have been fortunate and blessed to travel all over the United States and abroad, singing, playing, teaching and giving workshops and seminars in music, the music industry and preaching the Gospel of Jesus, the Christ! God took this black country girl, who was raised in the woods, and took her around the world. "I went from the woods, to the White House!"
Mariea at the White House for a Christmas Concert (Clinton Administration)
I went back to graduate school to complete my graduate degree in the Music Business and Entertainment Industries. I wanted to understand the business behind the music. Later I would study music engineering. Now, I produce, record, mix and master my own songs! I also do this for other artist and songwriters. My journey has been long and it's still developing. Stay tuned, there's so much more!