Great Gretsch Guitarists: Michelle Marie
“You know, girls don’t really play guitar…but you could always be a singer.”
When sixteen-year-old, Bronx-born Michelle Marie heard those words from her guitar teacher, it understandably hurt her feelings. It also made her angry and even more determined to prove him wrong. Tired of not being taken seriously, Michelle decided to stop the private lessons and teach herself guitar. And with determination, a great ear, a handful of Berklee College of Music books, and hours of practicing, she succeeded.
Eddie Van Halen was her first guitar influence, but when Michelle stumbled upon Pat Metheny’s contemporary jazz classic, “Are You Going With Me?” while searching for a radio station, the teenager’s musical life was changed forever. Although she had grown up in a house full of music (her American father liked country music; her Dominican Republic-born mother, Carmen Severino, was a major Spanish Pop star), Michelle had never heard jazz. But she was mesmerized by the beautiful melody of Metheny’s song playing through her headphones and was instantly hooked.
After buying her first Pat Metheny album, she went on to discover and devour the artistry of such jazz greats as Wes Montgomery, George Benson, Jim Hall, Bill Evans, John Coltrane, Keith Jarrett, Jack DeJohnette, and legendary Gretsch drummer Elvin Jones.
Today, Michelle is recognized as a major jazz artist and is one of the most creative musicians in the industry. Aside from being a superb guitarist (she’s one of a handful of female guitarists playing improvisational jazz and bebop today), Michelle is also a gifted songwriter, composer, and arranger. Plus, she possesses a smooth, velvety voice to accompany her imaginative arrangements.
Michelle has played her arsenal of Gretsch Silver Jets, Sparkle Jets, and cool Blue Pearl finish Jets with the Beyonce band, is a member of the Black Girls Rock house band, and accompanied such artists as Mary J. Blige, Patti Labelle, Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, Missy Elliott, Sheila E., and several others. She has also performed at Jazz Festivals around the world, both individually and with her own band, the Michelle Marie Trio, and at Carnegie Hall, Birdland, and Blue Note Jazz Club in her hometown of New York City.
She’s also played at many Gretsch-sponsored events, including the 130th Anniversary Celebration and the 2016 Gretsch Days at StreetSounds in Brooklyn. Dinah and I have had the pleasure of meeting Michelle and seeing her perform. Although she’s soft spoken, you can tell how deeply she cares about music, and how important it is for her to connect with her audience and continue to grow as an artist.
Michelle is what I would call a “go-getter,” and describes herself as an artist who loves all aspects of music production and art creation. She started her own record company, MM Records, to produce her own records and those by other artists, and formed MM Productions, which is dedicated to promoting and supporting live jazz and world music.
She also shares my and Dinah’s passion for enriching lives through participation in music, especially children and teenagers. Michelle is the founder and director of MMRockCamp, a really cool four-week music camp program for students who are serious about music and becoming better performers.
MMRockCamp focuses on many genres of music–rock, metal, pop, R&B–and students, ranging in age from children to teenagers, who learn how to play within a band setting, read music, structure songs, improve soloing, and much more. And, at the end of each session, the students perform at a big finale rock concert.
Gretsch is proud to be a sponsor of Michelle’s innovative MMRockCamp and to have her playing Gretsch guitars around the world. We’re also glad this gifted performer didn’t listen to her guitar teacher; she’s inspiring females of all ages to play guitar and follow their musical dreams.
— Fred Gretsch
Enjoy these videos:
The Michelle Marie Trio (Carlos Mena: bass, John Davis: drums) with special guest Rie Tsuji on piano
The Michelle Marie Trio performing “80th Street” at the Gretsch 130th Anniversary event at StreetSounds in Brooklyn, NY.