Grace Givertz (she/her), a talented songwriter living in Boston, has defied the odds in pursuit of her calling. Grace grew up in Jupiter, Florida – a wealthy, beachside Miami suburb. But her family was very much in the minority because they were Black and poor. Grace’s humble beginnings were also marked by chronic medical challenges. But she has found solace and creative inspiration through the healing power of music. In pursuing her dream to be a musician, it’s been a revelation uncovering the nurturing support of the Black Opry community. Grace is now realizing the power of following her passion and letting authenticity be her compass. (See full episode one transcript below.)
photo by Senia Lopez for WXPN
Season 1 Episode 3 – Unstoppable: How Grace Givertz Embraced Authenticity in Music
Meet Grace Givertz, a Boston-based folk artist and multi-instrumentalist whose witty and honest lyrics bring a refreshing energy and sound to folk music
More about Grace Givertz
Black Opry Residency has been supported by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage.
EPISODE THREE TRANSCRIPT
(Grace Givertz – Elephant in the Room)[00:00:00]
[00:00:00]HOST: The music you’re hearing is from Grace Givertz. She’s a singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist currently based in Boston, Massachusetts. Given her operatic vocal talents, you would never guess that Grace has suffered from severe asthma for nearly her entire life.
[00:00:12]Grace Givertz: I had pneumonia the first time when I was five and I was hospitalized so I was on steroids a lot because I kept getting sick and then my, I would get pneumonia and so it was just recurring and happening and happening. And then [00:00:30] because I was on steroids, my immune system was like gone.
[00:00:34]HOST: Grace grew up in Jupiter, Florida – a wealthy, beachside Miami suburb. Grace’s family was very much in the minority because they were Black and poor.
[00:00:42]Grace Givertz: you have this one very small area of the people who keep the town running. And that’s where all the brown people live.
[00:00:54]HOST: She was homeschooled by her mother from second to seventh grade due to her medical condition. Grace credits that period of her life with [00:01:00] making her the creative person she is today.
[00:01:02]Grace Givertz: I really had the freedom to choose, okay, what kind of things do you wanna do?
[00:01:05]HOST: And guess what activity she chose?
[00:01:07]Grace Givertz: I was a competitive figure skater in Florida, and so there was that, that taught me a lot of discipline. Like that was my activity. It’s funny because figure skating was the only activity I could do because my asthma’s often triggered by heat. So exercising in a normal air conditioned place is no, no good. But if I’m in a freezing room exercising, we were set.
[00:01:29]HOST: Between figure [00:01:30] skating competitions, Grace started listening to lots of music. That’s when she discovered a young Taylor Swift.
[00:01:35]Grace Givertz: I was a Taylor Swift hipster. I was Taylor Swift before she was cool. I saw her open for Rascal Flats. At like some random amphitheater, my parents drove me three hours to see her at a strawberry festival. And in like buttfuck nowhere Florida. Like I am a diehard Taylor Swift fan.
[00:01:51]HOST: Seeing Taylor Swift perform convinced Grace that she needed a guitar. Her family made her choose between new ice skates or a guitar because they didn’t have enough money for both.[00:02:00]
She chose the guitar.
(audio of Grace performing?)
[00:02:01]Grace Givertz: And my first show I ever played when I was 11 years old, and I’m still skating at this point, but, I was transitioning out. I’ve been playing guitar for maybe like a month or two at that point. And my, but I, all, I did, all I did was play guitar. So like, I wasn’t good by any means, but like I knew my chords, and I played my first show outside of a Urban [00:02:30] Outfitters in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.
[00:02:33]HOST: At that very first show she covered songs by the emo band All Time Low and, her favorite, Taylor Swift. And in that moment something clicked into place for Grace.
[00:02:41]Grace Givertz: And everyone’s like, wow, she’s so good for an 11 year old. And I was like, yeah, I’m good. Because it was like all I was, I was a little sickly little dude and I just stayed in my house all day. It was either I’d go to the rink or I’d be in my house.
[00:02:54]HOST: Grace says music was a way to experience and see the world in a way she never could before. Looking back now, performing and songwriting became a way out of Florida, a way to cope with her asthma, and a way to process the hard things she would continue to experience.
[00:03:06]Grace Givertz: I felt like music and playing music was something that I was good at and something that didn’t make me feel sick. Because even skating, sometimes I would have those moments where it was like I couldn’t breathe. But music, it didn’t do that to me. And I was great and I loved it.
(So white in Boston / finding community through the Black Opry )
[00:03:23]HOST: Fast forward. Grace is living in Boston, developing her song craft and working in the box office at a music venue. She says in 3 years working there…
[00:03:30]Grace Givertz: I could count on one hand how many black artists I had seen play there. And for the longest time I was under the impression that I was one of the only black folk musicians in Boston.
[00:03:49]HOST: It was a disheartening and lonely feeling.
[00:03:51]Grace Givertz: So something that really drew me to the Black Opry was like, wait, only black people who play my kind of music. Are a part of [00:04:00] this. And it just cracked my mind in half.
(Grace connecting with the Black Opry)
[00:04:04]Holly G: grace is like a little sunshine.
[00:04:07]HOST: That’s Holly G. The founder of the Black Opry, an organization committed to elevating Black artists in country music.
[00:04:13]Grace Givertz: If you follow, follow Holly on Twitter, you know that that is the, that is the soul of Black Opry is um, Twitter.
[00:04:23]HOST: Grace says she came across Holly’s twitter account via a mutual musician friend.
[00:04:27]Grace Givertz: And I was like, oh, what’s this? And so I looked at [00:04:30] it and I was like, this is so cool. And so I sent Holly a message on the Black Opry Twitter, and I was like, hi, this is my music. My name’s Grace. Like if you come back to Boston, like, let me know. I’d love to. Play on a show and she was like, oh my God, yes, I love it. She was like, I’m obsessed. And I’m like, I’m obsessed. And then we just had like a, a moment on dms and Twitter
(Audio from Grace’s first Black Opry show if it exists? Or the WXPN Friday night showcase)
[00:04:53]HOST: Black Opry Revues typically happen “in the round”, meaning all the songwriters booked for the evening are on stage together and one-by-one they go around and perform their songs.
Grace was anxious before her first Black Opry Revue. She says she felt like the new kid in the classroom…
[00:05:07]Grace Givertz: but I walk into that green room and I was like, Hey fam. It’s like family right there. And so there’s this sort of understanding and and there’s comfort that comes along with. Playing a show with someone who looks like you. There’s a safety that comes along with it
[00:05:25]HOST: Grace says this was one of the first times she’d been on stage without having to put her guard up.
1[00:05:29]Grace Givertz: I don’t [00:05:30] have to feel like I need to prove anything and prove that I am just as good as the white person. So that was a really amazing feeling to walk in and feel like I was part of something and part of this group of people who had already known each other for a bit
(beat of music)
[00:05:49]Grace Givertz: I knew I needed to be a part of it because there’s power in numbers and if there’s a collective of hundreds of black musicians being like, hi, we’re here. There’s no other [00:06:00] option, then to listen to us and to book us and to share space with us and make space for us
[00:06:08]HOST: You’re listening to Season 1 of the Artist to Watch podcast, featuring the Black Opry Residency. I’m John Morrison. Over the course of five episodes you’ll hear the stories of Black artists trying to make it in the world of country and Americana music. This is episode three featuring Grace Givertz.
If you haven’t heard the first couple of episodes yet, I suggest that you go back and start with those. They tell the story of how the Black Opry Residency came to be.[00:06:30]
(Grace on stage telling story of family connection to song)
[00:06:30]Grace Givertz: This song I’m going to sing you. Um, it’s made me cry a couple times this week, so I’m not gonna give a whole backstory to it cuz. There’s a count going on currently, um, in the back to see how many times I cry. We’re at four right now. Uh, and the list started at 12. So nobody knows what I do alone.
[00:06:55]HOST: That’s Grace on stage at World Cafe Live in Philadelphia. [00:07:00] Grace stands around 5 feet tall and wears big round glasses. And her live performance features guitar, banjo, a tiny drum set that she can play with her feet, and her large voice.
[00:07:09]Grace Givertz: But I’m gonna sing this song. Um, I put it out a few years ago and it’s one of the best songs I’ve ever written. And I feel, I always feel like really awkward being like, it’s a good song. It’s one of the best songs I’ve ever written. And I’m like, it was, it was, it was the first song I ever wrote that I said, oh, I can write [00:07:30] songs. And I would like to dedicate it to my beautiful, beautiful mom and dad who are watching.
Um, love You. I love you, and thank you for teaching me about the perseverance of love and the human condition in general. This song’s called father’s Daughter.[00:08:00]
We met ona Saturday. He was just like any other Saturday, except it was the day I was born. Took me to church on a Sunday. It was just like any other Sunday, except it was the day that I found the Lord.[00:08:30]
They say you don’t wanna be your father’s daughter, buddy’s kind, even if he doesn’t take care. Mama. And I know the times are tough and just down on his look, but I guess we’ll have to
(music fades under)
[00:09:02]HOST: Grace originally moved to Boston in 2016 to attend the famous Berklee School of Music. Due to a scholarship snafu, she ended up not enrolling at the college. This was a rough time for Grace. Her family was experiencing homelessness back in Florida.
[00:09:15]Grace Givertz: I was staying on people’s couches. Um, but I was like, I would rather be homeless in Boston and know that I’m gonna move in somewhere than be in Florida and feel like I’m trapped in, I’m just like in a hotel room with my parents and our five [00:09:30] cats.
[00:09:30]HOST: Grace says she got three jobs. And then her parents were able to find housing nearby in Boston.
[00:09:34]Grace Givertz: So they got secured housing then. And I’ve been here in Boston ever since.
And I’m more, since my music is more successful and I’m more active in my music career, and I like, I still like music more than 90% of the people I know who went to Berkeley. Um, and I have no student debt. And so it was a blessing in disguise. . And that was seven years ago, and [00:10:00] I’m here.
(Grace Givertz – Year of the Horse)
[00:10:03]HOST: In 2019, Grace released her first studio album “Year of the Horse”. She’s still proud of many of those songs that deal openly with her chronic illness. She says the title track is about feeling stronger than her asthma makes her appear to others.
(Year of the Horse in clear)
[00:10:15]HOST: But Grace cringes a little when she listens back to the album. She says she was fixated on having white-run record labels and venues like her music.
[00:10:22]Grace Givertz: So I whitewashed it. I had all white hands on it and it wasn’t on purpose. It [00:10:30] just subconsciously happened and it didn’t turn out the way that I wanted it to. It didn’t turn out as authentically as I wanted it to because there were so many factors that were playing in that I felt like I needed to live up to my imposter syndrome.
[00:10:49]HOST: Despite feeling less than excited about the final product, she was ready to push her music career forward.
[00:10:54]Grace Givertz: And I had a tour planned for March, 2020 [00:11:00] and need I say more.
[00:11:02]HOST: The year 2020 was extremely tough for Grace. Due to her asthma, she was basically shut up in her studio apartment for 6 months. She had recently gone through a break-up. And just prior to the pandemic, she had been hit by a bus.
[00:11:14]Grace Givertz: I got hit by a bus and if my bike had not landed on top of me, I would’ve been crushed.
[00:11:19]HOST: Grace says she was so stressed out that she started grinding her teeth really badly and it…
[00:11:23]Grace Givertz: got to the point where I couldn’t open my mouth more than like this and I couldn’t talk and I couldn’t sing. [00:11:30] Um, and it turned out there’s a joint in your, in your next to your joint, there’s a disc that goes back and forth very, very slowly. And mine, they thought mine slipped here, so they thought it slipped down here. But when they got in to do the surgery, it had gone all the way down here, Uhhuh. So I couldn’t open my mouth.
[00:11:50]HOST: So Grace was holed up her in apartment. She had PTSD from being hit by a bus. She couldn’t sing because of her jaw surgery.
[00:11:56]Grace Givertz: I was so depressed. I was recovering from surgery. [00:12:00] I couldn’t do the one thing that didn’t make me feel sick because it made me feel sick. And so, yeah. But I healed. I can eat food, I can open my mouth, I can sing, um, which is really great. And then I wrote a bunch of songs and then I said, I wanna make an album.
(Grace – one of her new songs)
[00:12:25]HOST: After her experience on her debut album, Grace is taking a different approach this time.
[00:12:29]Grace Givertz: it is [00:12:30] only being touched by BIPOC disabled folks and queer people. So l b lgbtq, there is not one cis hit white man that’s touching this album, and it already feels right. If I’m gonna tell this my story, right. The only white man that involves my dad. So I’m recording that now [00:13:00] and here we are
[00:13:02]HOST: Coming out of this dark period, Grace started working hard on this new album and went on to play two Black Opry showcases in the Boston area, but she didn’t meet Holly G until she was a finalist for WXPN’s Black Opry Residency.
[00:13:14]Holly G: grace had played a couple Black Opry shows, but I had still not met or even like FaceTimed her. And so when we did the interview with Grace, that was the first time I had seen her.
[00:13:24]HOST: Again, this is Holly G.
[00:13:26]Holly G: And it was just like, Uh, she’s just magical. Mm-hmm. [00:13:30] She’s so joyful and, you know, all of this is on top of her just being an, an exceptional artist because all of them are exceptional artists. But you know, the passion that Grace has for the work that she’s doing in conjunction with what we’re doing, I respect it so much.
[00:13:47]HOST: Holly was especially excited about Grace’s overall approach to her new album
[00:13:51]Holly G: One of the things that we advocate for a lot is like, it can’t just be black artists. It has to be black bands and, you know, black people behind the scenes. And [00:14:00] Grace is working on an album where she specifically chose all black musicians to play with her, like, uh, for her band parts.
[00:14:07]Rissi Palmer: Love, grace. Wish I could bottle Grace and sell her. Grace is a star, A star all day long.
[00:14:16]HOST: This is Rissi Palmer. A songwriter, radio host, and one of the Black Opry’s biggest champions. And that’s how anyone who knows Grace will describe her: “she’s a ray of sunshine” or “she’s a star”. And they’ll say she has an uncanny ability to turn all these hard things she’s gone through into something beautiful.
Rissi was on the committee who helped select the Black Opry residents.
[00:14:33]Rissi Palmer: In fact, I remember us doing the interviews with her and just her popping. Like, some people walk into a room and they just pop. She’s one of those people. Mm-hmm. I think she’s a star and I think she has all the makings of, of being great. She’s got a beautiful heart. Really, really beautiful spirit. It’s very honest. She’s very honest and, [00:15:00] and she’s very talented to Boot, so I, I think she’s a star.
[00:15:03]HOST: Needless to say, Grace was chosen to be one of five artists in the Black Opry Residency’s inaugural cohort.
(##BOR scene tape here##)
[00:15:09]HOST: Leading up to their one week residency in Philadelphia, the Black Opry artists had weekly Zoom meetings with music industry experts and insiders.
Grace says those meetings shifted her mindset about how to approach her career.
[00:15:19]Grace Givertz: it has honestly made me question and think harder about some of the things that I’m approaching with this album [00:15:30] that I’m recording right now, of how am I gonna actually distribute this?
[00:15:34]HOST: Grace says she was originally dead set on releasing her new album with a label, but one particular Zoom seminar with the songwriter Autumn Rowe turned that idea on its head.
[00:15:42]Grace Givertz: And she was just like, yeah, you know, we did all of this in a dressing room and then won a Grammy , won seven Grammys. And I was like, oh. Mm-hmm. That’s great. All right. And so I think that it’s gotten me thinking critically about what I wanna do with this album, which is really important. [00:16:00] And I think that’s something that I wanna continue, um, exploring is how do I want to share this album with the world and what’s the best way that’s most authentic to me?
(Scene shift to Philadelphia / Amos Lee – “Landlord story” )
[00:16:11]Grace Givertz: The music I listen to and the music I make are 180. And it sounds like Sure. You’re, you’re like, sometimes you’re in the same boat. Yeah. But it’s like, I, I, 90% of the time I’m listening to indie rock music. Sure. Um, but I make folk music because I feel like my stories resonate better in that, and my voice is better suited for [00:16:30] that.
[00:16:30]HOST: in Philly, the Black Opry residents’ schedule was packed with performances, interviews, and conversations with industry experts and musicians.
Here, Grace and the rest of the cohort are meeting with songwriter Amos Lee.
[00:16:41]Amos Lee: I want to hear everything about you guys. I’m actually really curious about everyone.
[00:16:47]HOST: The group asked Amos how he developed his songwriting process. His response echoed Grace’s story and the way she approaches her craft.
[00:16:53]Amos Lee: one of the first songs I ever wrote, my first record is a song called “Keep it Loose, Keep it Tight.” And it says, [00:17:00] so it’s two chords cuz I don’t have, I took one guitar lesson in my life. Mm-hmm. I don’t, I don’t know anything, I don’t have any theory, I don’t have any singing lessons, I don’t have anything. So I really just followed this, this vibe and, um, I lose myself. And that’s not a practice that a lot of people are comfortable with, but I think if you’re gonna write, you have to do it. Yeah, absolutely. You have to be really comfortable with losing yourself in a moment. And that. [00:17:30] Being fearless and it comes with not thinking that you can’t, you know, and not thinking that, you know, you have to, your success doesn’t define you truly, I don’t think it should. I think. You should define your success. Um, so
well, I walked over the bridge into the city where I live and I saw my old landlord, [00:18:00]well we both said hello… Now relationships change. So I think it’s kind strange. Marty makes some mangrove. Well, some people they claim if you get enough fame live over the rainbow, over the,
[00:18:29]HOST: Amos Lee’s message about defining your own success couldn’t resonate more with Grace. And he gave the Residents some very honest insights about the challenges of life on the road…
[00:18:37]Amos Lee: the mental stuff on the road is a bitch. and you’re just gonna have to find ways to do it. And a lot of times you’re just gonna want to be home. Not on stage, but you’re gonna be on a plane or on a bus or in an Uber, and you’re gonna go like, I just, I just feel like absolute fucking ass. Mm-hmm. But then you’ll take the stage and you’ll get in a song and you’ll feel the vibes and you’ll awaken. Yeah. And if you can think about like, the gratitude of some of the situations, I think that will really help propel you through the doubt. Absolutely.
(transition to short karaoke scene – Grace singing Miley Cyrus’ “The Climb”)
[00:19:15]HOST: The residency week was full of joy, but also heavy conversations. So the five artists blew off some steam mid-week singing karaoke at a small bar in West Philadelphia.
(moment of Grace singing chorus)
[00:19:23]Grace Givertz: Amazing.[00:19:30]
In my wildest dreams, I want to be doing music full-time and I wanna be able to take care of my. Health while doing that. So have health insurance. And I would like to be consistently touring. I would like to own a house. Basic human rights.
[00:19:51]HOST: This is Grace singing Miley Cyrus’ 2009 smash hit “The Climb”. A song about overcoming personal struggles and life obstacles.
(beat of music)
[00:19:58]HOST: In the company of her new friends and peers, Grace killed it.
(beat of music)
[00:20:01]Grace Givertz: I mean, I wanna be Beyonce, but like, I don’t want to be Beyonce. I don’t wanna be Taylor Swift famous because like, that’s so scary. Like, I wanna be like Brandy Carlisle famous. I mean, I just wanna be Brandy Carlisle. But the career I want and the career I, I think is mine. I think that is, that is what I see. Because if I compare it to anyone else, I’m gonna be disappointed or [00:20:30] sell myself short. Hmm. So I think the answer is me. It’s mine.
(Karaoke scene up and out)
[00:20:37]HOST: In the next episode of the Artist to Watch podcast, we’re going to introduce you to The Kentucky Gentlemen. Queer identical twin brothers with hearts of gold and voices like angels.
Derek Campbell: Look what being a hundred percent ourselves and, and everyone’s face is about being ourselves. Where it’s got, look where it’s gotten us, look where it’s got, and it can only like that is when things, that’s when all of a sudden things were happening for us.
[00:23:53]HOST: And we’ll learn about what it takes to write a hit song.
Rissi Palmer: I like the way they produce this. I like the way this vocal sounds. I like this instrumentation. Sit down and build your musical vision board of what it is that you want your music to sound like. Like, what do you have to say musically? What do you sound like musically?
[00:23:56]HOST: We hope you enjoyed this episode of the Artist to Watch podcast. For more [00:24:00] information about the Black Opry Residency, visit X – P – N dot O – R – G.
The Artist to Watch podcast is produced by WXPN, member-supported radio from the University of Pennsylvania, in partnership with Rowhome Productions.
WXPN’s Executive Producers are Roger LaMay and Bruce Warren.
The Executive Producers for Rowhome Productions are Alex Lewis and John Myers.
This episode was written by Alex Lewis with help from me, John Morrison.
Final audio mixing and mastering for Rowhome Productions by Justin Berger.
Special thanks to Holly G and Rissi (REE-see) Palmer.
The [00:24:30] Black Opry Residency has been supported by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage.
The Artist to Watch podcast is distributed by PRX — the Public Radio Exchange.
If you enjoy being the first to discover up-and-coming talent, be sure to go to the Artist to Watch show page on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts and subscribe by clicking “follow” so that you never miss an episode. While you’re there, please leave us a review and share [00:25:00] an episode with a friend.
Thanks for listening.
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