"When I was little, I had this really funny voice," says singer Macy Gray. "Every time I talked, the kids would make fun of me so I stopped talking. I was self-conscious of my voice. It never occurred to me that I could sing."
Strange to think that Macy's voice once made her cringe. These days, that voice which has drawn comparisons with Billie Holliday, Janis Joplin and Tina Turner to name but a few is one of the most distinctive in popular music. Her vocal talent coupled with a fresh sound, hip lyrics and a distinctive fashion sense catapulted Macy to stardom in 1999, winning over the critics and public alike. The singer hasn't put a foot wrong since.
Born Natalie McIntyre in Canton, Ohio, on September 9, 1970, she took her stage name from a friend of her retired steelworker father. "Macy Gray was a man who used to come over and shoot pool with my husband," says Macy's teacher mother Laura. "She was always extremely shy and he used to tell her, 'You're going to be something special one day'."
Macy attributes much of her shyness in her childhood to her voice, which was a target for teasing throughout her schooldays. Nevertheless, she displayed an eccentric individuality and creative sense early on. On the musical side Macy studied classical piano, but during her childhood writing was her main outlet. She was a gifted student and in 1985 won a college scholarship to attend the United States Naval Academy. Macy, however, turned the offer down and enrolled at the University of Southern California (USC) to study film, with the intention of going into screenwriting.
While at film school, Macy stumbled luckily on what would be her future career when a friend asked her to perform in his jazz band. Initially she was apprehensive but decided to give it a go. By the time she departed USC in 1989, a few credits short of a degree, Macy was singing in underground clubs around Los Angeles, while trying her hand at writing screenplays. Music gradually began to take over as her main aim, and the artist even organised a late-night club spot called the "We Ours" at a Hollywood coffeeshop.
After spending most of the early 1990s sending out demo tapes, Macy finally scored a record deal with Atlantic Records in 1994. Over the same period she met and fell in love with a local mortgage collector named Tracy Hinds. The couple had two children daughter Aanisah in 1990 and son Tahmel a year later before marrying in 1996. Macy was three months' pregnant with their daughter Cassius when they separated in August 1997, divorcing a year later. To make matters worse, at the same time as her marital break-up, Atlantic decided not to release any of Macy's material and dropped her from the label.
The singer retreated to her mother's home in Canton and, believing her music career was over, set her sights on becoming a teacher. But a Los Angeles producer who heard her demos for Atlantic convinced her to go into the studio one last time to record some tracks for a new demo.
Macy signed with Epic Records in April 1998, and within two months was at work on her debut album On How Life Is. Released a year later, the album won over both the public and critics alike no mean feat and has since gone platinum three times over. Her 2001 follow-up The Id proved the artist was no flash in the pan with a string of hit singles.
Macy was finally able to realise her dream of getting involved in the film industry after breaking through on the music scene. She won a role as a gangster"s wife in the award-winning thriller Training Day, and made an appearance as herself in the smash hit blockbuster of 2002, Spider-Man.