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Jamie Grace On Her Uplifting Song "Marching On," Life With Tourette's Syndrome And The Transformative Power Of Gospel And Contemporary Christian Music

Jamie Grace

Photo: Leon Bennett/Getty Images

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Jamie Grace On Her Uplifting Song "Marching On," Life With Tourette's Syndrome And The Transformative Power Of Gospel And Contemporary Christian Music

The GRAMMY-nominated singer-songwriter talks about the personal journey and universal message behind her inspiring track and how she's advocating for the Tourette's community

GRAMMYs/Aug 8, 2020 - 04:00 pm

Jamie Grace strives to be a beacon of hope for young people who struggle with Tourette's syndrome (TS). Diagnosed with the debilitating disease when she was just 11, the GRAMMY-nominated singer-songwriter creates contemporary Christian music fueled by empowering lyrics inspired by, but not limited to, her condition, as heard on her recent song, "Marching On."

The song carries a message about the importance of resilience in the face of adversity. Its uplifting lyrics unify those who suffer from TS while celebrating their uniqueness: "We are warriors / We are beautiful / Even with our scars / We march on / 'Cause we are fighters," she sings in the chorus. 

While the song grew from her personal experience with living with TS, its underlying theme of positivity is universal, Grace says.

"I intentionally avoided talking about Tourette syndrome in the lyrics ... I wanted people to hear this song and immediately think about something they have faced, but have chosen to continue to press through, whatever that may be," she tells GRAMMY.com.

As an advocate for the TS community, Grace has been vocal about her condition throughout her career. She's actively worked with the Tourette Association Of America (TAA) for the past 10 years. During Tourette Syndrome Awareness Month, which ran from May 15–June 15, she joined the organization for a livestream performance of "Marching On" and worked with the nonprofit on National Advocacy Day in March.

"We are proud to have Jamie as a partner, raising awareness and fostering social acceptance for Tourette' Syndrome, which impacts an estimated 1 million Americans," Amanda Talty, CEO and president of TAA, says. "'Marching On' is an anthem for people in the Tourette community; they are diverse and talented and bring incredible gifts to the world like Jamie!"

Released in May, "Marching On" has since taken a new meaning in the wake of the nationwide protests in response to the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Black U.S. citizens by police. Grace, who's faced racism throughout her life and career, has embraced the song's second life. 

"Now when I sing 'Marching On,' I am reminded of my culture ... the beauty in the color of my skin ... and the many Black men and women who are fighting every day to continue marching on."

GRAMMY.com spoke with Jamie Grace about the personal journey and universal message behind "Marching On" and the healing power of gospel and contemporary Christian music.

You released your song, "Marching On," in May, but it resonates even more so now.

As a songwriter, you never know how people will interpret the songs that you write, even if they are very specifically about something that happened in your life. However, it's rare that I write a song about one thing and once it's released, it begins to take on a new meaning for me. In the last few months, I have shared more than I have before when it comes to my experiences as a Black woman in America. I did lose some followers on social media who oppose the idea of speaking out. But more than anything, I have been privileged to be a part of seeing perspectives shift and eyes opened. 

Over the years, I have faced racism in many of the churches where I was booked to sing, and I have dealt with the daily microaggressions as both an entertainer and in social settings. These experiences have been pushed aside or shot down by many [of my] peers and some of my audience, but I am seeing a shift toward humility and a willingness to listen that I am grateful for.

Even so, the last thing I want is for stories of racism to become emotional bait that do not call for self-evaluation, intentional education and, ultimately, action. And as Black people, though often faced with the struggle, we are many years post action, as resilience is simply a part of who we are. So now when I sing "Marching On," I am reminded of my culture ... the beauty in the color of my skin ... and the many Black men and women who are fighting every day to continue marching on.

Tell me about the inspiration behind the song.

I never want to be seen as a victim. While I want people to be empathetic toward what I go through on a daily basis with Tourette Syndrome, I want my resilience to speak louder than my pain. My friends and I saw Billie Eillish perform at the [2020] GRAMMY Awards. When someone complimented her voice, I casually said, "There's something about us … " alluding to the fact that when you face adversity in your life, resilience is almost an obvious sequel.

I finished "Marching On" just weeks before flying to [Washington] D.C. with the Tourette Association for National Advocacy Day in March, spending intentional time thinking about and praying for kids, teens and adults with TS. Many of us share our stories publicly, but if you stop for a moment and hear about our Tourette, we simply hope that you will stick around and hear the rest of the story, and how in spite of our challenges, we are marching on.

What makes the song so relatable?

I intentionally avoided talking about Tourette syndrome in the lyrics. I did mention a "tic" in the lyrics, but even then, most people have had or known someone who has had a temporary eye twitch or nervous tic. I wanted people to hear this song and immediately think about something they have faced, but have chosen to continue to press through, whatever that may be. 

We have all experienced something in our lives that we cannot control—whether it's our health, family dynamic, the result of a test, job application, loss of a job or even losing a loved one. There is "a time to weep and a time to laugh ... a time to mourn and a time to dance … " [Ecclesiastes 3:4] and I wanted this song to be a bridge of those moments that we all inevitably face.

You recorded your tics and implemented them into the song, with your tics themselves becoming instruments. How did that feel? What does that sound like?

At 28, my tics are vastly different than they were when I was a teenager. When I was growing up, there was a list of 10-12 physical and vocal tics that weren't very easy to disguise, so it was pretty obvious that I had Tourette's. Even so, I would often suppress them, which I shouldn't have, to attempt to present myself as "normal" to my peers. But my tics would always find a way to show up.

As an adult, my tics range from blinking my eyes to hitting my upper chest to making "ah!" and "uh!" sounds to my arms and legs bending repeatedly. Most days, I may not twitch a lot, but when I do, it's pretty obvious. The list of the subtle and bold ways Tourette presents itself in my speech and movements [is quite long], so recording it for a song felt more natural than suppressing it.

Some people with Tourette have explained it like a sneeze. You can hold it in as much as you'd like, but eventually it's going to show back up, and maybe even more intense than it would've been the first time. So pressing "record" and letting those walls fall down felt like pure freedom. Then, as a musician and nerd, I enjoyed chopping up the sounds and making them into music.

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What do you think about what is happening in our country right now?

Growing up as a little Black girl in Georgia who rode horses, wore boots, dreamt of playing guitar but also loved hip-hop and smooth jazz, I am not oblivious to what it means to be different and to be treated differently because of it. I have experienced racism since I was a child, and I have heard the many stories of my parents, grandparents and others. While I continue to grieve the injustices that Black men and women face, I am grateful that things are being brought to light.

I do believe that there is hope for our future—I must. I try my hardest to do my part in sharing music that is honest and joyful, in sharing my story in hopes of providing understanding for those whose eyes are just now being opened. And I try to shed light on the activists who are on the front lines of the fight for justice and the calls to action they so graciously share.

The gospel music featured during the George Floyd memorial in June was so soothing. Can you talk more about the spiritual side of gospel music? Do you think the genre can cross over into mainstream audiences?

Historically, music has been a crucial part of recovery and rejoicing for Black people and people of color. I remember being a little girl and my mom playing Mahalia Jackson throughout the house and making sure that my sister and I knew about Negro spirituals. These songs, while full of hope and joy, were oftentimes written out of places of absolute despair ...

George Floyd did not deserve to be treated the way he was treated and certainly did not deserve to be killed. As I heard "Amazing Grace" at his funeral and later in the service, seeing people get up and clap and sing along to "Every Praise," I realized that the world is seeing who we genuinely are. 

As a people, we have been victimized and brutalized, but we will not allow our voices to be silenced. Whether singing about not turning around when faced with gas-masked injustice or about the grace we still find to face yet another day in the midst of tragedy, we will always sing. But know that our voices don't end when the song does. Our lyrics are a representation of the depths of who we are, and the message in our words is a call to action for us all to create and advocate for significant change.

How have you overcome the challenges of having Tourette's while being a singer-songwriter?

I realized that music was therapeutic for me when I was really young, even though "therapeutic" wasn't yet a part of my everyday vocabulary. It always brought me so much joy to sing songs with my mom in church or to dance in the living room to jazz with my dad or listen to rock music that my older sister, Morgan, loved, though I wasn't positive I was cool enough!

Shortly after my diagnosis, our grandaddy brought over a drum set and a guitar for Morgan and I. He wanted to bring a little bit of joy into our day, but he sparked something in us that, years later, still remains. Our dad is also a drummer, and both our mom and granny love to sing. I remember the entire family staying up way too late, making up new songs night after night.

The physical act of playing music is a literal antidote for my tics. The choice of choosing songs with lyrics that encourage and empower subconsciously start the work of building me up emotionally. 

I am grateful for my therapist, my doctors and my family, of course, but being a singer-songwriter has been one of the greatest parts of having Tourette. Because even though I have a complex condition that often causes me physical and emotional distress, it always pushes me to be creative and find a release that I always enjoy.

How resilient did you have to be when you were growing up?

Fortunately, my family is the greatest support system I could have asked for. I had to learn to bounce back and recover from bullying and the everyday stress of having a neurological condition. However, I always had a safe place at home. I was provided with love, support and understanding, which took some of the pressure off of me to be resilient. If I needed to cry for what seemed like a long time, I could, because their strength was always something I could depend on.

Even so, I didn't realize until adulthood that I had to grow up a lot faster than most of my peers. There was a time when my medication was affecting my heart, so I was put on a heart monitor. Learning how to jump very gently on a trampoline so as to not mess up a heart monitor was a casual lesson for me in middle school. 

Spending nights in the hospital because my tics had caused physical damage was "normal," and my tics being mocked was a part of my life almost every time I was around kids and teens. When you grow up with a medical condition, your mental health is largely dependent on your ability to face and experience excruciating pain and disappointment, yet still find the strength to press on. I am so grateful for a family that provided comfort in my life, allowing me to find that strength.

Do you ever want to perform other kinds of music?

I've always felt privileged to be able to incorporate all styles of music into the kind of music that I make, especially now as I've been producing my music for a few years. I'm definitely a Christian, and I love singing about my journey as someone who truly loves God. And for me, that includes singing about everyday life experiences.

Within the genre of gospel music, there are so many different styles. I grew up on mostly faith-based lyrics, and most people think that means I don't know much about music. But within gospel, there is hip-hop, country, soul, contemporary and so much more.

I play the banjo, and recently did a singer-songwriter-style project with my sister called "Show Love." I also love hip-hop, and I recently shared a single called "Dream Big." One of my favorite things about my faith is that God is leading me through every aspect of my life. So whether it's a song about my husband ("90's Kids") or a song about my relationship with God ("Wonderful"), to me, it is gospel music because it's a part of a story that is so beautiful, I know that it must be bigger than me.

What's next for you?

I will continue to raise awareness by helping the Tourette Association Of America, and I'm releasing music every month for the rest of 2020, including an EP in October that will be released alongside my book, "Finding Quiet." Most people, whether you have Tourette or not, face some kind of anxiety or anxiousness throughout life. The book is about my journey to quieting my mind in our anxious world. The EP features songs that I have written during this journey.

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Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

Rotimi

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Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

The Nigerian-American singer and actor sat down with the Recording Academy to talk about what inspired his latest album, 'Walk With Me'

GRAMMYs/Jul 8, 2019 - 10:04 pm

In 2015, Rotimi stepped into the New Orleans Superdome for the first time to experience the magic of ESSENCE Fest. Four years later, in 2019, the "Love Riddim" singer returned to the celebration as a performer, something he said was spoken into existence.

"Last year me and my manager had a conversation and I said, 'Listen, I'm going to be on the [ESSENCE] mainstage this year. 365 days later, we did it," Rotimi told the Recording Academy at the 25th annual ESSENCE Fest.

Rotimi, also an actor on Starz' "Power," has evolved since his last album, 2017's Jeep Music, Vol.1. The singer said he really hit home with its follow-up, the recently released Walk With Me, a project he worked hard for, putting in hours in the studio after filming on set.

"Walk With Me is the first time I actually felt like I was giving myself as an artist, and personally I feel like with everything else I have going on I wanted to show people that this is really what I do," he said. "I wanted people to understand who Rotimi is, who Rotimi was before, who I want to be and just understand my growth and the journey and my passion for what I do."

Part of why the album felt like such a representation of him is because it embodies beats of his African roots, something he said was very present growing up Nigerian-American. 

"I grew up with a lot of Fela Kuti and I grew up with Bob Marley," he said of his musical roots. "But I also grew up with Carl Thomas and Genuine and Usher, so there was a genuine mixture of who I am and what I've grown up to listen to. The actual Walk With Me project was a mixture of influences of Akon and Craig David."

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Find Out Who's Nominated For Best Rap Album | 2020 GRAMMY Awards

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Find Out Who's Nominated For Best Rap Album | 2020 GRAMMY Awards

Dreamville, Meek Mill, 21 Savage, Tyler, The Creator, and YBN Cordae all earn nominations in the category

GRAMMYs/Nov 20, 2019 - 06:28 pm

The 2020 GRAMMYs are just around the corner, and now the nominations are in for the coveted honor of Best Rap Album. While we'll have to wait until the 62nd GRAMMY Awards air on CBS on Jan. 26 to find out who will win, let's take a look at which albums have been nominated for Best Rap Album.

Revenge of the Dreamers III – Dreamville                                                                        

 
This star-studded compilation album from 11-time GRAMMY nominee J. Cole and his Dreamville Records imprint features appearances from some of the leading and fastest-rising artists in hip-hop today, including label artists EARTHGANG, J.I.D, and Ari Lennox, plus rappers T.I, DaBaby, and Young Nudy, among many others. Recorded in Atlanta across a 10-day recording session, Revenge of the Dreamers III is an ambitious project that saw more than 300 artists and producers contribute to the album, resulting in 142 recorded tracks. Of those recordings, 18 songs made the final album, which ultimately featured contributions from 34 artists and 27 producers.

Dreamers III, the third installment in the label’s Revenge of the Dreamers compilation series, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart and achieved gold status this past July. In addition to a Best Rap Album nod, Dreamers III is also nominated for Best Rap Performance next year for album track “Down Bad,” featuring J.I.D, Bas, J. Cole, EARTHGANG, and Young Nudy.

Championships – Meek Mill

In many ways, Championships represents a literal and metaphorical homecoming for Meek Mill. Released in November 2018, Championships is the Philadelphia rapper’s first artist album following a two-year prison sentence he served after violating his parole in 2017. Championships, naturally, sees Meek tackling social justice issues stemming from his prison experience, including criminal justice reform. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, his second chart-topper following 2015’s Dreams Worth More Than Money, and reached platinum status in June 2019. Meek Mill's 2020 Best Rap Album nod marks his first-ever GRAMMY nomination.

i am > i was – 21 Savage

Breakout rapper and four-time GRAMMY nominee 21 Savage dropped i am > i was, his second solo artist album, at the end of 2018. The guest-heavy album, which features contributions from Post Malone, Childish Gambino, J. Cole, and many others, has since charted around the world, topped the Billboard 200 – a first for the artist – in the beginning of 2019, and achieved gold status in the U.S. As well, nine songs out of the album’s 15 original tracks landed on the Hot 100 chart, including multi-platinum lead single “A Lot,” which is also nominated for Best Rap Song next year. 21 Savage’s 2020 Best Rap Album nomination, which follows Record of the Year and Best Rap/Sung Performance nods for his 2017 Post Malone collaboration, "Rockstar,” marks his first solo recognition in the top rap category.

IGOR – Tyler, The Creator

The eccentric Tyler, The Creator kicked off a massive 2019 with his mid-year album, IGOR. Released this past May, IGOR, Tyler’s fifth solo artist album, is his most commercially successful project to date. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, marking his first time topping the coveted chart, while its lead single, "Earfquake,” peaked at No. 13, his highest entry on the Hot 100. Produced in full by Tyler and featuring guest spots from fellow rap and R&B stars Kanye West, Lil Uzi Vert, Solange, and Playboi Carti, among many others, IGOR follows the rapper’s 2017 album, Flower Boy, which received the Best Rap Album nod that same year.

The Lost Boy – YBN Cordae

Emerging rapper YBN Cordae, a member of the breakout YBN rap collective, released his debut album, The Lost Boy, to widespread critical acclaim this past July. The 15-track release is stacked with major collaborations with hip-hop heavyweights, including Anderson .Paak, Pusha T, Meek Mill, and others, plus production work from J. Cole and vocals from Quincy Jones. After peaking at No. 13 on the Billboard 200, The Lost Boy now notches two 2020 GRAMMY nominations: Best Rap Album and Best Rap Song for album track “Bad Idea,” featuring Chance the Rapper.

Brittany Howard, Brandi Carlile, Leon Bridges, 2 Chainz & More Join Small Business Live Benefit Livestream

Brittany Howard

Photo: C Brandon/Redferns/Getty Images

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Brittany Howard, Brandi Carlile, Leon Bridges, 2 Chainz & More Join Small Business Live Benefit Livestream

Proceeds from the event will be go toward loans to small businesses founded by people of color, with additional support to women-owned and immigrant-owned businesses, via Accion Opportunity Fund

GRAMMYs/Jun 16, 2020 - 04:13 am

This Saturday, June 20, artists including Brittany Howard, Brandi Carlile, Leon Bridges, 2 Chainz and more will come together for Small Business Live, a livestream fundraiser event for small businesses facing challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Proceeds from the livestream will go to Accion Opportunity Fund to support small businesses founded by people of color, with additional support to women-owned and immigrant-owned businesses.

“Entrepreneurs of color are denied credit more often and charged higher rates for money they borrow to fund their businesses. We need to accelerate support to underserved businesses in order to reach our full potential,” Accion Opportunity Fund CEO Luz Urrutia said. “We have to decide what we want our Main Streets to look like when this is over, and we must act decisively to keep small businesses alive and ready to rebuild. This is a fun way to do something really important. Everyone’s support will make a huge difference to small business owners, their families and employees who have been devastated by this pandemic, the recession, and centuries of racism, xenophobia and oppression.”

Tune in for Small Business Live Saturday, June 20 from 4:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. EDT on smallbiz.live. The site also provides a full schedule of programs and links to watch the livestream on all major digital platforms. To learn more about Accion Opportunity Fund, visit the organization's website.

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DJ Khaled, Nipsey Hussle And John Legend Win Best Rap/Sung Performance For "Higher" | 2020 GRAMMYs

DJ Khaled, Samantha Smith and John Legend

Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

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DJ Khaled, Nipsey Hussle And John Legend Win Best Rap/Sung Performance For "Higher" | 2020 GRAMMYs

DJ Khaled, Nipsey Hussle and John Legend take home Best Rap/Sung Performance at the 62nd GRAMMY Awards

GRAMMYs/Jan 27, 2020 - 09:05 am

DJ Khaled, featuring Nipsey Hussle and John Legend, has won Best Rap/Sung Performance for "Higher" at the 62nd GRAMMY Awards. The single was featured on DJ Khaled's 2019 album Father of Asahd and featured Hussle's vocals and Legend on the piano. DJ Khaled predicted the track would win a GRAMMY.

"I even told him, 'We're going to win a GRAMMY.' Because that's how I feel about my album," DJ Khaled told Billboard. "I really feel like not only is this my biggest, this is very special."

After the release of the song and music video -- which was filmed before Hussle's death in March -- DJ Khaled announced all proceeds from "Higher" will go to Hussle's children.

DJ Khaled and co. beat out fellow category nominees Lil Baby & Gunna ("Drip Too Hard"), Lil Nas X ("Panini"), Mustard featuring Roddy Ricch ("Ballin") and Young Thug featuring J. Cole & Travis Scott ("The London"). Hussle earned a second posthumous award at the 62nd GRAMMYs for Best Rap Performance for "Racks In The Middle." 

Along with Legend and DJ Khaled, Meek Mill, Kirk Franklin, Roddy Ricch and YG paid tribute to Hussle during the telecast, which concluded with "Higher."

Check out the complete 62nd GRAMMY Awards nominees and winners list here.