You may recognize her as the singer of the national anthem before Hillary Clinton’s speech accepting the official presidential nomination for the Democratic National Party in June 2016. You also may recall that her performance did not go well at all, resulting in Madison McFerrin receiving bountiful amounts of criticism and hatred for her performance. But rather than letting the experience, which should have been a moment of great opportunity rather than public shaming, destroy her spirit and force her to concede defeat, the experience inspired Madison. It only fueled her passion to be a vocal artist spreading the message of love and positivity even more.
Born in San Francisco California to Debbie Green and Grammy winner Bobby McFerrin (for 1988’s “Don’t Worry Be Happy”), Madison moved around a lot as a child– from San Francisco to Minneapolis, MN in middle school; Philadelphia, PA for high school; Boston for college; and finally Brooklyn, NY to pursue her career, Madison is used to adaptation, change, and growth. Her resilience is empowering, and the raw approach to her music as a cappella is bold – few people have the courage to approach the stage, let alone do so with only themselves and their voice, and maybe a loop pedal and/or synthesizer for vocal layering. But Madison embraces this approach as an essential element of her artistic beliefs. Believing that much of the music today, from mainstream to indie, has lost its message. But music used to be a social platform, a method of self-expression and resistance. “You look at the Beatles, you look at Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder or Nina Simone — they were being activists through their music. And right now I think that it is really important for artists of all types to commit to their level of activism versus just putting out ‘shit’ like going to the club and getting drunk and having sex. That type of music is not benefitting the soul in any way, only selling out and making money. I am here to express myself in the most honest and positive way possible and that is what I am committed to.” Not only is this message present in her music, but a physical expression as well, for she has a lyric from The Beatles’ “Julia” tattooed on her back: “When I cannot sing my heart I can only speak my mind.”
With a background in playing funk and soul in her college band Cosmodrome, her post-college electronic soul duo Binary Soul, and then touring with her father and his band spirityouall, Madison’s solo a cappella approach synthesizes elements of her experiences and produces a modern soul/R&B sound with dashes of jazz and a small bounce that I like to think of as positive pop. Her musical and life influences Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, James Brown, and Erykah Badu are definitely present in her music if not in sound then in artistic message and presence. These artists, people who have said real things about life, from the lowest lows to the seemingly ridiculous highs, used their power as an artist to spread important messages. Madison’s ultimate goal is to spread love. “The best thing you can do is spread positivity. Being an artist is a rebellious act, an act of resistance, especially as an independent artist not participating in today’s corporate America. That is how I show my feminism, my blackness, how I am able to express myself.”
Self-promoting, operating as her manager, PR agent, artist, and producer, Madison is already making a name for herself, playing a set at the inaugural Arroyo Seco Weekend in Pasadena, CA –which was also her first festival appearance as a solo artist— and performing some concerts in Brazil with Brazilian pianist César Camargo Mariano this August. Her first EP Vol. I is currently available online, and her remix of “No Time to Lose” is coming out soon. By the end of the summer she hopes to have Vol. II released and anticipates beginning a project this fall with her brother titled “You and I”. Madison McFerrin is a rising artist with a lot to offer, and she is only getting started, and we cannot wait to see what she has in store.
Interview and Feature by Meaghan Allen