…Every culture in the world, even those who have never been touched by anybody else. Even in the middle of the jungle where they’ve only ever known just them. Every single culture and community creates its art. They create music, and they create dance. It’s something that connects us on a human level universally. I think that because music is such a community art form, it brings people together in ways that I don’t think anything else does. It doesn’t matter who you are; it doesn’t matter how much money you have; it doesn’t matter your political beliefs; it doesn’t matter how you cook your eggs; we get an opportunity to come together, putting all of our differences aside for something beautiful. Music is beautiful.
In advance of the True Colors Festival, I had the distinct pleasure to talk to Mandy Harvey. Mandy is a singer, songwriter, author, and speaker who happens to be deaf.
She is managed by Phil Guerini. Mandy was Simon Cowell‘s “Golden Buzzer” pick on America’s Got Talent. That performance has collectively received over 500 million views. Mandy uses her talents and artistry to encourage others through her many acts as part of non-profit organizations such as No Barriers USA and her work for “Music: Not Impossible” with Not Impossible Labs.
Her heart is to help others achieve their dreams by encouraging them to “Try” and to move forward as a community. Mandy Harvey has been featured in NBC’s Nightly News, Great Big Story, Vacations of the Brave, Music: Not Impossible, LA Times, Pickler & Ben, America’s Got Talent, the TODAY Show, Access Hollywood, and with Dr Oz, Steve Harvey and more.
About the True Colors Festival. TCF is a long-running international festival of performing arts. We celebrate diversity and inclusion, and embrace the fact that we are One World, One Family. We choose the arts as our platform, for its power to move, inspire and heal.
As a festival, TCF brings people together to generate exchanges, innovation and creativity; and transform the way we relate to each other.
Presented by The Nippon Foundation, TCF brings diverse artists and audiences together through concerts, documentaries, music videos, film screenings, children’s programs, musicals, workshops and other activities. Since 2006, festivals have been organized in Southeast Asia and Japan, with more than 1,200 artists from more than 30 countries connecting with a global audience in more than 80 countries.
The 2022 concert featuring Katy Perry will be livestreamed free as part of its commitment to being accessible. It takes place on 19th and 20th November and presents more than 90 artists from around the world in a celebration of diversity.
Mandy, thank you so much for joining us. It’s an honor. Our readers would love to learn about your origin story and backstory. So, can you share the story of how you grew up? Can you share with us the backstory that led you to this career path?
I grew up in south Florida. I was always a hard-of-hearing child, so I was very withdrawn and socially awkward. My mom put me in a choir class at church, which began my love for being a part of a community. It was the first opportunity I had where the words were in black and white and sheet music form, and I got to be a part of the conversation for the first time. That was the spark for me to want to make music my full-time everything. But my focus was always on education because I was always terrified of people staring at me and afraid of that pressure. I wanted to create a community and give people the opportunity to express themselves.
We moved to Colorado when I was going into fifth grade because of my dad’s job. I went to the University of Colorado State for vocal music education. When I lost my hearing, I was dropped from the program and had to start over. So I took up ASL. I got involved with the deaf community and learned from many amazing people that just because I have barriers doesn’t mean I’m prevented from pursuing my dreams and thriving. It led me to make albums and perform around the world and get an opportunity to, in my way, still be an educator involved with music, just very, very different than I thought it was going to be when I first started,
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about your funniest mistake when you first started? Then, can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Gosh, I think if there were a well to fall (into), I would have fallen into it. I’ve made many mistakes. It’s been ridiculous. I think one of my first mistakes was after losing my hearing and getting back into performing again. I was playing with the jazz band. They modified the key and didn’t tell me because they were improvising the instrumental break. So when I came back to sing, I was singing at a different key than where they were performing. So everyone in the room went aah.
That was an opportunity for me to pay a lot more attention and be more thoughtful with the other instruments that were there so that I could understand what they were doing to follow along and be more of a part of it.
I’ve failed at so many things, and picking one is hard. Toyota actually celebrates when they find failure so that it can improve upon it.
Do you have a story of a person who made a profound impact on you or who helped you? Could you share the story with us?
A friend named Erik Weihenmayer. He was the first blind man to climb Mount Everest. There have been two blind men climbing Mount Everest, which is unbelievable in itself. He has personally and professionally pushed me past my comfort zone. How he did that was he asked “why are you not writing my music?” And I told him it was because I was afraid. And he said, “what’s the worst that can happen?” And so I sat on the floor and wrote a song about myself in 10 minutes. It ended up being a song called “to try,” and I never expected anybody to ever hear it. Because I was encouraged and pushed by many different, incredible people, I ended up singing on the stage of America’s Got Talent. That video now has been seen collectively, I think, over 600 million times. I started writing music because I was encouraged to do so by Erik.
This is a bit personal. My daughter was recently diagnosed with severe hearing loss. She’s seven years old. The doctor prescribed hearing aids, but she’s embarrassed to wear them. And so she pushes herself to hear without them. So what would you advise little girls like that?
As her advocate, as her ally, you have to understand that at that age, all you want to do is feel like you’re normal and that you belong and don’t like being the weird kid. I was always the weird kid. I was the kid who had to sit in the front row right next to the teacher, and if I wasn’t staring at them, they knew I didn’t understand what was happening. I had an FM receiver where the teacher wore the device to have it directly inputted into my massive headphones. People thought I was weird. But at the end of the day, the best thing that I could say is that everybody is weird.
Everybody wants to feel like they belong because nobody feels like they do. So just because you have hearing loss and have hearing aids doesn’t mean anything other than you have a tool that is helping you be successful. So understand those feelings you have of being scared or nervous, and I guarantee you every single one of your classmates is feeling the same way. That is something that we can bond on.
As a parent, that will be something they will struggle with until they know who they are, which takes time and age. I would suggest finding other people who have hearing aids and hearing loss so that she can see examples of people being successful where it’s not weird. But that’s going to be a time thing.
Keep your eye out for her being withdrawn socially because you can misunderstand things. At that age, if you make mistakes with communication, kids can be mean, so you withdraw and don’t say anything because you don’t want to look stupid. So keep your eye out for her being withdrawn.
Fantastic. Thank you so much for that. Can you share with our readers how you are using your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share the meaningful or exciting causes you’re working on now?
I have a concert releasing this evening for National Disability Employment Awareness Month. I’ve partnered with different organizations where we are encouraging CEOs to hire diversely and to measure themselves by the disability index to ensure that they’re providing appropriate tools and following what they promised they would do.
I’ve also worked with Not Impossible Labs to help with their music. With Not Impossible Projects, which is wearable technology so you can feel songs broken down on your skin.
I’m a board member for No Barriers, co-founded by Erik Weihenmayer. We encourage people worldwide to break down barriers and move forward with and without disabilities. And I’ve gotten to be a part of many cool sessions, including going to the Bat Cave at Microsoft and testing some of their software so that I can help advise on how things could improve.
I work hard. I’m a busy bee.
So beautiful. Are there are few things that our readers can do to support you in any of these efforts? What can the community do to get involved?
It starts with the basics. It starts with understanding that our communities benefit from diversity and understanding that even if you don’t have what you would consider a disability, you can be a fantastic ally by offering a chance to educate yourself. Don’t presume to know how best a person thrives. Instead, be open to conversing with people. The best way to know how you can be helpful is to ask the people in your community how best you can serve.
Can you tell us about performing in Japan with True Colors? Please tell us why we should get excited about it.
It’s a fantastic display of human power. There are incredible artists from all over the world coming together, which in itself is awe-inspiring. But not only are they people from all over the world, but they are also people all over the world who are making a positive impact in their communities by shining as they are by being examples that we are so much stronger than the barriers that are in our way.
We have a power between us working together to inspire other people to look at their own lives, whether they have a disability or not. Every person experiences barriers they can look at in their lives and understand that those barriers are meant to be broken.
Why do you think music, in particular, has the power to create social change and create a positive impact on humanity?
Every culture in the world, even those who have never been touched by anybody else. Even in the middle of the jungle where they’ve only ever known just them. Every single culture and community creates its art. They create music, and they create dance. It’s something that connects us on a human level universally. I think that because music is such a community art form, it brings people together in ways that I don’t think anything else does. It doesn’t matter who you are; it doesn’t matter how much money you have; it doesn’t matter your political beliefs; it doesn’t matter how you cook your eggs; we get an opportunity to come together, putting all of our differences aside for something beautiful. Music is beautiful.
This is the signature question that we asked in all of our interviews. You have a very accomplished and fantastic career. Looking back, are there four or five things you wish somebody had told you when you first started and why?
- I wish I could have told myself that failure is a beautiful part of the process.
- I wish somebody had told me that there are multiple ways to accomplish a dream.
- I wish somebody would have said that the world puts you in a box of limited potential, but you are the only person who can trap yourself in that box.
- I wish somebody would have said that the only person who knows what I’m capable of is me.
You’re a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Good gracious. There are so many different things.
I would say communication is the most significant gift of love that you can give. So I hope that, in my way, I can inspire people to start working on learning other cultures and languages so that we can connect as people.
We’re very blessed that prominent leaders in entertainment and business read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to sit down? Because we could tag them and maybe we could connect you.
I just had cochlear implant surgery. And so everything is very bizarre. So I’m experiencing artists for the first time, even people who I have studied forever.
One of the people I would love to sit in a studio with and have conversations about music and theory is David Gilmour from Pink Floyd. He is an unbelievable artist and musician. I feel like he is a genuine, true artist when he wants to improve. Always.
Kate Bush would be remarkable.
Honestly, I would love to say hi to Katy Perry, who I am performing with at the True Colors concert in Japan. I would love to connect with her and have an actual conversation with her.
Amazing. On my end. I’ll do my very best to get their attention. Thank you so much for this profound and inspirational interview. I’ve done many, many interviews, but this is really among the most interesting I’ve ever done. I’m so happy to be connected, and I hope we can stay in touch.
I hope so too. I’m always an email away. So please send a hello. I would love to stay in contact if your daughter ever needs some support or you need some support. This is a lifelong journey. You guys are starting. Reach out and ask. I know not just me but many people in the community, and we can get you guys some friends and supporters to cheer you on.
That’s so nice of you to offer that. My wife and I are so grateful. I will ask my daughter. She may be a little shy, but I will ask her. It’s so lovely of you to offer; hopefully, we can do that.