Singer Grace Weber is gearing up to release her debut album, but she's already part of one of the most exclusive groups of musicians in the world. Last year, she won a Grammy for her writing on Chance the Rapper's mixtape Coloring Book.
Weber's elation at sharing that honor was reminiscent of what she felt when she became one of only a handful of young artists to be chosen for National YoungArts Week in Miami. The intensive weeklong program plucks promising artists from cities across the nation for workshops and master classes under the tutelage of some of their fields' most prodigious artists. Weber was living in Milwaukee as a high-school senior when she was selected for the prestigious mentorship program.
"I remember getting my acceptance letter and feeling like it was the first time that someone had really known me for who I was as an artist and really kind of given me this feeling of confidence like, OK, maybe I really am good enough to pursue a career in the arts," Weber says.
YoungArts' effect on her was immediate and profound, she says. "I instantly felt less alone as a kid... It's not weird to want to be an artist, and I actually can do this."
Weber's weeklong foray into the professional music world not only affected her on a personal level but also had a tangible role in tightening her skills and shaping the course of her career as a singer and songwriter. "My master teachers down in Miami helped me grow as a singer within one week," she says, "more than I had learned in like ten years of being a young artist."
She says the National YoungArts Foundation has maintained an active role throughout every step of her career and provided her with opportunities she could have never even dreamed of. She's performed around the world with the foundation's support, including in front of the Eiffel Tower as part of a 9/11 commemoration ceremony. At one event, she sang for an audience that included Whitney Houston.
"It was literally one of the craziest experiences for me, especially as a young singer... and then I got to meet her afterward, and it was a moment that I'll never forget, meeting Whitney Houston and her telling me: 'Good job.'"
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Weber is a living testimonial to the life-changing effects that a YoungArts experience can provide for a young, talented, hungry, but perhaps shy or hesitant artist. She's returning to Miami this month as artistic director for YoungArts' Backyard Ball, a fundraising gala for the organization. Other participants include YoungArts alumni Tarell Alvin McCraney, who wrote the play that was adapted into the Oscar-winning film Moonlight, and Jose “BoyBoi” Tena, a YoungArts finalist who now dances for Beyoncé and choreographs for Ariana Grande. As artistic director, Weber had a hand in curating the evening's performances. She'll sing at the gala with Third Story, a group that also lent its voice to Chance the Rapper's album.
"Everybody in the show is really accomplished [and] has had a really exciting year in their artistry, and we wanted to use this gala as an opportunity to celebrate them and shine a light on their talent and show how far they've come since they were at YoungArts Week."
Weber is set to release her debut album, for which she's already released the singles "More Than Friends" and "Elated." In the vein of YoungArts-style mentorship, she's launched her own nonprofit, the Music Lab, a free monthly arts program for Milwaukee-area high schoolers looking for guidance in the arts.
YoungArts’ Backyard Ball. 7 p.m. Saturday, January 13, on the YoungArts Campus, 2100 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 305-377-1140; youngarts.org. Table reservations cost $1,500 to $150,000, or donate via youngarts.org/gala-tickets.