Singer Madison McFerrin on her upcoming Apollo Theater show and artistry in a pandemic
VANESSA HANDY | 12/3/2020, midnight
Independent singer-songwriter Madison McFerrin will perform virtually Dec. 5, 2020, as part of the Apollo Theater’s Music Café series this season. The series showcases independent artists across a variety of genres through free performances that can be streamed on the Apollo Digital Stage. After the release of her EP “You + I” in December of 2019, the 28-year-old artist toured during the end of last year, but with the coronavirus pandemic forcing cancellations of concerts worldwide she was unable to continue touring in 2020. The performance at the Apollo marked McFerrin’s first return to a physical stage in six months, albeit quite different from the nature of packed venues on tour.
“I was definitely feeling some serious COVID fatigue and also just really missing live performance,” said McFerrin. “I even kind of went into it a little sad because the Apollo is this incredible, legendary space and I was so honored to be able to perform there, but it still was different, you know. It wasn’t an audience in the same way that I would have hoped for, but my spirits were lifted immediately when I did the performance.”
With a small audience of crew members before her and a dazzling outfit in tow, McFerrin took the Apollo stage back in September to tape her set and felt a bit of the performance-rush once again.
“The one thing that had come with these at home livestreams is I was very casual,” she said. “Being on stage actually meant that I got to dress up. I didn’t realize how much I missed putting lipstick on. I was wearing this really pretty shiny pink suit that I had never gotten to wear because I bought it right before COVID and so it was nice to just dress up and be in that environment.”
McFerrin marries acapella and soul in her music. With a warm and resonant sound, each note soothes, offering a moment of peace to those who will tune in to the Apollo livestream.
“It’s the first performance that I have done some of my older stuff,” explained McFerrin. “When I released ‘You + I’ I had some new gear and so I wasn’t doing a lot of the acapella stuff in the same way. Nothing new per say just, you know, lots of love.”
Challenges due to the coronavirus pandemic weigh heavily on musicians at large, but it’s the simultaneous resurgence of the “Black Lives Matter” movement that has been at the forefront of McFerrin’s mind as an interracial artist.
“Even in a pandemic Black people in this country can’t get away from systemic racism and police violence,” she said. “I think that was really an eye-opening moment for a lot of people. It’s been really inspiring just to see how the movement has really taken to the mainstream with a force that is undeniable.”
June 5, 2020 would have been the 27th birthday of Breonna Taylor, the Black woman whose killing in Louisville, Kentucky sparked national outrage and demands for justice. On this day, McFerrin encouraged listeners to purchase her song “Can You See,” which centers around police violence inflicted on the Black community; 100% of the proceeds from purchases of the song went to the GoFundMe fundraiser for Taylor’s family.
“I think that it is a disservice for any artist to not use their platform for the greater good,” asserted McFerrin. “I think that would be one of the few reasons why I would want to be ‘famous,’ just to be able to spread awareness in ways that might not be the case without a bigger platform.” McFerrin stays active through service near her home in Brooklyn, in her birthplace San Francisco and through her presence online as an artist.
The unexpected and tragedy-filled year of 2020 will be behind us soon and the singer has her sights set on plans for the new year. Namely, she’s working on her debut album, but also wants to engage with new audiences, artists and––fingers-crossed––return to shows in-person.
“I just want to make sure that I’m doing the best that I can as a human being first and foremost,” McFarrin said. “So I think as long as I’m working towards that I think the art will follow.”
There’s a lot to look forward to, but for now, the Apollo virtual show is afoot and her goal is simple: cultivate happiness.
“I hope people have fun,” she said. “I hope that they leave or they finish watching it with, you know, a sense of joy. That’s always kind of my aim when I perform. I just like to have a good time.”