Stevie Mackey is a musical genius. The go-to vocal coach in the industry, he has worked with – and helped inspire musical creativity in – Selena Gomez, Jennifer Lopez, Fergie, Lenny Kravitz, Kelly Rowland, Kehlani and Coldplay, just to name a few. He’s had many unimaginable moments in his career, from coaching members of the Jackson family and working with Whitney Houston, but on this week’s episode of the L.A. Weekly podcast, he shares the most incredible one in his professional life thus far:
He woke up on New Year’s day, still basking in the glow of a successful performance the night before. Flush with adrenaline, he and his family hopped on an impromptu flight to Turks and Caicos to spend some quality time together. They had been there for a week when he got a call – President Biden needed him.
“While we were in Turks and Caicos, Joe Biden reached out to us and said ‘I want you to sing for the inauguration with Jennifer [Lopez], and I want you to do something in Spanish,’” Stevie shares. “It was incredible.”
He was nervous, but the overwhelming emotion he felt was excitement.
“We knew that there’s only a handful of people alive who have ever sung in an inauguration before, it doesn’t happen every year and it’s legends only, so it was a really really intense situation that we knew we had to get perfect,” he expands.
Knowing that he’d be working and practicing with Jennifer every day until the big moment, he readied himself to coach the icon towards one of the most defining moments of either of their careers.
“Immediately I told the staff of the hotel we were staying at … ‘hey, I need a keyboard and a microphone set up here, in the morning, on the beach, please!’” the famed vocal coach remembers. “They dug up one and the next morning I woke up to a keyboard being tested, a microphone, they’re amazing. And for the rest of our vacation we brainstormed patriotic songs and ideas, and just played around with a bunch of different ideas. I [still] have voice notes of everything.”
They tried all kinds of songs, from American classics to hymns, until they finally landed on the piece they wanted. “America the Beautiful” with “This Land is Your Land” and a little “Let’s Get Loud” for that signature J.Lo sound.
Once their set was solidified, they had to choose Jennifer’s outfit. Easier said than done. The performer had to practice in every outfit option to know what worked best. Stevie had to come up with creative solutions to help the decision-making process.
“I had a picture of the Capitol blown up on the movie theatre screen, a microphone stand in front, and her outfit there. That’s the closest we could come to [replicating] D.C.,” he smiles.
There’s a lot of interesting things that go into singing, Stevie tells Brian. Because people don’t just listen, they also watch. Whatever outfit they chose had to work in the natural sun, with the landscape, and not steal the show.
“We perceive singing through all of our senses,” Stevie explains. “It’s more than just what you’re hearing. You’re also observing every single thing.”
They got one actual practice run before the inauguration.
“This is a huge moment for me,” he describes, telling the podcast about how he felt at the Capitol. “You’re about to swear in Kamala Harris? Come on now. This is just crazy.”
“We finally sound check everything, it goes well and I’m excited, the next day I feel like I’m about to have a baby…give birth because I’m so nervous,” he laughs. “That’s exactly how you feel!”
End of the story? “She kills it,” he says. “We’re all just screaming…it felt like a movie.”
To hear more incredible moments, including the story of how one becomes a vocal coach to the musical gods of today, listen to the podcast here: Spotify, Cumulus Los Angeles or wherever you get your podcasts.