“It’s just a really tough instrument, and I never really liked it in the beginning— I could be playing it a certain way and the notes were all out of alignment,” Mabry says over a beer at the downtown bar with her father, Joe, a retired city manager for 25 years. “And then finally it dawned on me. If I’m going to use a violin, then I can just use it in a way where I can make it my own, not having to buy a huge bag of strings.”
Mabry studied in the Chicago area while her father was employed there, while her mother stayed in Brooklyn to be with her family.
But the violin wasn’t Mabry’s first instrument. As a girl, she and a few friends would travel to New York City’s Irving Plaza for “Somewhere between a cabaret and a rock concert,” as one friend wrote in an oral history she recorded while making the documentary. When Mabry entered high school, she had already seen her second big move in her life. She’d left a long-time boyfriend for a man who hadn’t seen her play the violin (the boyfriend was a New Yorker, but Mabry was from the East Coast) so he got the idea to teach Mabry to string the instrument herself. Mabry was 14 years old. (She’s now 22.) “We learned from an expert and that wasn’t even hard to do,” Mabry recalls. “I would use a violin and then have someone give me instructions about what to do with my body in order to do that trick.”
Even though she didn’t get an audition for a college show, Mabry got signed to a record label that released “What a Feeling”. It debuted in the top 10 on the Billboard charts. It made her the cover of Harper’s Bazaar and she landed several jobs working with indie labels and on the road— she even wrote a song for a group called Fuzz, who went on to make the 2012 Grammys’ Top Five Albums chart.
When you see the sun rise up and make the morning light shine on the world
And a voice tells me you’re here, you’re home, you’re close
Let the music play in my mind and play with your words
When I think it’s time to go home
You’re the one that puts me there
You were there for me when everything went wrong
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