By Derek Russell
Northeast Mississippi native Mary Frances Massey is a singer and part of the band Massey Tate with partner Paul Tate. She has been singing professionally since 2006 and has taken her career worldwide with companies like Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines and Matt Davenport Productions. She is a studio vocalist in the recording industry and can be heard on Oxford’s “Thacker Mountain Radio” as a guest vocalist. Massey is a teaching artist with the Mississippi Arts Commission and Mississippi Alliance for Arts Education, as well as an instructor and part owner of North Mississippi Dance Centre in Tupelo. She and her husband Adam live in Tupelo with their daughters Molly, 7, and Frances, 2.
Q: What’s your background in music?
I started singing in the children’s choir at First United Methodist Church under the direction of Beverly McAlilly. From a young age, she saw something in me and always pushed me to do my best. She corrected my flaws with compassion and never let me give up. That, paired with school choir and show choir, were a big part of my musical growth. I then went on to Mississippi State University on a vocal scholarship. From there I moved on to a small performing arts program at Columbia State Community College and began my musical career the following year in 2006.
Q: What’s your greatest musical accomplishment?
Writing my album and releasing it in 2015. I was going through so much in my life that I felt that I had to get out, so I started to write it down. That turned into one song, then another. It got great reviews once it was released and it made me feel proud to be a woman songwriter and performer.
Q: What do you enjoy about performing live?
It is never the same. When I was a lead singer for Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, I would have 50 second costume changes and have to rush on stage like it was effortless. In one of those shows, our curtain caught fire. In another show, a guest rushed the stage and demanded the cast sing “Happy Birthday.” I’ve seen some really bizarre things. My band and I have had some funny things happen too. Not too long ago, we had a lady get on the drum set and demand to play along (at one of our bar gigs). We obliged, but she was so terrible that we ended up getting security to get her off stage. The energy is always different, the audience is always different and our sets are always different. Working with Massey Tate is so enriching. They are all professional musicians who enjoy being challenged. Paul Tate, my partner, is an accomplished pianist and guitarist. He can chart absolutely anything, which gives us an added edge to other bands. People can request literally any song and he can chart it. We have such a great time at our gigs.
Q: Where can audiences see you perform?
It varies month to month but my favorite places to play lately have been The Thirsty Devil and Forklift. I occasionally join Thacker Mountain Radio’s house band, the Yalobushwackers, on their show. Paul is the lead guitarist and charts most of the music for the show. You can always check my website maryfrancesmassey.com for upcoming gigs.
Q: Why do you think music is universal?
Because music has no language barrier. You can travel worldwide and always find people listening to music, dancing to music and feeling music. It is one of the most expressive art forms there is. You can always connect to someone through music. Through my job as a teaching artist with the Mississippi Arts Commission, I recently taught at a Meridian middle school. It was a lesson in ELA, creative writing. I had the students write a story with characters, conflicts and conflict resolutions. I then told the students to rap their stories. It was an incredible moment to see these students bring their stories to life. One of my favorite moments as a teacher. Rap may not be most people’s favorite music but it does connect to many. It serves as an expressive outlet to a lot of students, musicians and more.
Q: Who are some of your role models that are recording artists?
Bonnie Raitt, Susan Tedeschi and Barbra Streisand, just to name a few. I have a really random list of artists on my playlists – from Broadway to blues. I just connect to so many artists. Also, being a dance teacher, I have to always search for fun music to teach with. So I can be jamming out to the Foo Fighters on my morning commute and then a random Kids Bop song will come on and throw me off.
Q: Did you always want to perform when you were growing up?
Yes. I can honestly say, this is my dream and I’m living it. It may not be a huge stage in New York but it is a stage. A stage I can create on, in a community that has graciously accepted me.
Q: What’s your favorite song of all time and why?
“Do I Look Worried” by Tedeschi Trucks Band. It was one of those songs that when I first heard it, I was brought to tears by how raw it was. I was introduced to Derek Trucks way before I was Susan Tedeschi. The combination of those two is so rock solid as a duo. I got to see them play this song live and I took my dad to that concert. It was a spiritual moment for me to be standing next to my favorite person, watching my favorite band.
Q: You’re active in the arts – why are they so important to our region?
The arts are incredibly important in Mississippi and everywhere because children connect more through expression. Expression in visual arts, music and dance. Just think about how we teach our children their ABC’s – through a song. I was a child that was a physical and visual learner. I love how arts integration plays to children like me- that just need a different way of learning.
Q: What advice would you give others looking to find their voice?
Learning doesn’t stop with high school and college when it comes to your voice. Your voice will change many times at many different ages. You need to always push yourself to grow and continue to learn. You may hear “no” once or twice in your life. Maybe even multiple times. But that doesn’t mean you should give up. I have heard, “no, you’re not what we’re looking for” plenty of times. I eventually heard “yes.” I continued to grow with each job I got and learn from every director I had. I am always growing and will never stop learning.