Marchell Jackson’s life in music officially began when she and her friends started a vocal group in the 1960s, and it continues to this day, where at the age of 71 she is a working performer and a Berklee Online student. She is a testament to the belief that you should pursue the dreams that will make you happiest, and she offers her tips for longevity in the music business.
“I have a vision that I set for myself, and I try to live by that,” Marchell says. “My purpose for doing this is to achieve what I believe in.”
With a 60-year (and continuing) career in music as a jazz vocalist and recording artist, she embarked on a journey to deepen her skill in songwriting through Berklee Online’s degree programs in 2021: “At first, I was frightened,” Marchell recalls, “I hadn’t been in school for a while. I didn’t know if I would have the tenacity to learn. I didn’t know what challenges I’d have to face. I knew that this was the direction that I wanted to take. I’m so glad I’m here and I’m learning so much. I’m on the Dean’s List!”
Marchell actively records, produces, and performs under the stage name Whitney Marchelle. Based in New York City, she is a seasoned, award-winning vocalist, songwriter, and pianist. She credits her father for cultivating her interest in music.
“My dad played piano, tap danced, and sang—traveling around in the Midwest area [as an artist and musician]. When he met my mother, he got a regular job and decided to teach us music.” Marchell grew up with a highly musical family, in small-town Newton, Iowa. Her Dad’s involvement in the music industry inspired her to get involved in music at a young age.
She’s worked with Jon Batiste, Quincy Jones, Wycliffe Gordon, Clark Terry, and Spike Lee. She’s performed with Herbie Hancock, Tia Fuller (the Berklee instructor and sax player who breathed life into the lead character of Soul), and opened for big names including Bill Withers, Kiss, and Donny Hathaway.
“When I was young and opened for Bill Withers, Kiss, and Donny Hathaway, I was honored. When I was older and working with Jon Batiste and Tia Fuller, it was a mutual collaboration. I knew that I had to be [the best version of myself], professional and timely. That’s how you earn respect as an artist.”
What keeps me going is my drive; my drive to live.Marchell Jackson
Marchell has toured nationally in all 50 states, and globally in Dubai, Japan, Singapore, and France. Her recent album was acknowledged by JazzTimes and Billboard, and has received several awards for her performing and songwriting.
She says her proudest career highlight was writing and recording the song, “What Jazz Is,” a modern ode to her lifelong love for jazz music, “I took the history of jazz, and put it in the song … There are so many definitions of what jazz is. I decided to put as much as I could into one song, and still educate listeners.”
Marchell is currently working on a new album, which includes several popular jazz styles, words, and phrases that intersect her own identity and journey as a Black woman.
“What keeps me going is my drive; my drive to live,” she says.
Marchell shares how her experiences have led her to where she is, how she decided what she wanted to do next—go back to school—and the beliefs she keeps top of mind to keep herself going, no matter what might stand in her way.
- You are never too old to pursue your creative dream. “It gets to a point where you have to stop overthinking it,” says Marchell, “and simply go for it.”
- Be open to feedback; take criticism with a grain of salt. “Critics can be harmful, if you don’t take the feedback through a filter,” Marchell says, “You need to sift out [what is helpful to your growth].”
- “You can’t take rejection personally, even though on some days it will feel extremely personal.” Marchell also recommends centering mental health wellness (for example, pursuing professional therapy), and having close friends or people you feel safe talking about rejection with. Marchell says that reading self-discovery/self-help books like How to Grow as a Musician: What All Musicians Must Know to Succeed by Sheila E. Anderson has been cathartic as she’s grown from rejection.
- Collaborate. Marchell notes that creating connections with empathy will get you further than a divisive and competitive “do it yourself” mindset. The truth is: you can never do it alone. You will always need support. “Help each other out when it comes to [your art]. Reach out to other sources. … [you do this by] making a list of what you’re bad at and what you’re good at. Then you make a list of what you’re trying to achieve.” Marchell suggests using this list to guide you as you make connections. Ask yourself: What can you offer and where do you have room for growth?
- Create rituals for success, starting with how you build each day. “I get up … I usually have juice, I pray—have a spiritual cleansing prayer—and I look at my calendar—I usually write down what I have to do that day. I prepare what I need to do for the day. [With music] sometimes I don’t feel like writing songs, but I try to anyway.”
Freesia Towle is an Academic Advisor at Berklee Online, and a DJ living in LA. Berklee Online’s Academic Advising Team is made up of musicians and creatives like Freesia who are here to help you reach your musical goals at Berklee Online. To get in touch with an advisor call 1-866-BERKLEE (or +1-617-747-2146 if you’re outside the US) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.