“I thought that once you lost your hearing that was the end, but I was extraordinarily wrong,” says singer/songwriter Mandy Harvey, Golden Buzzer winner on America’s Got Talent, who tours not only performing but also encouraging others to persevere despite differing abilities.
After losing her hearing at age 19, as a music education major at Colorado State, Harvey went through what she calls a “zombie time.” “I gave up on music,” she tells Jay Ruderman in one of his All Inclusive podcasts. “I didn’t even sing in the shower for a year and a half. It was as if a part of my soul died because music has always been so connected with who I am.”
Her father got her started playing guitar again and before long, Harvey’s zombie period was over, and she was learning how to sing without hearing herself or the instruments.
A decade later, Harvey tours the world performing her original music and presenting her inspirational story of never giving up and continuing to try. She calls these messages Wisdom For Life. From that collection of messages, she shares “Hidden Challenges: Understanding Invisible Disabilities” at East Tennessee State University Tuesday, Feb. 11, at 7 p.m. in the Millennium Center Ballroom as the 2020 Evening of Health, Wellness & the Arts program, sponsored by the ETSU College of Public Health, Quillen College of Medicine Gold Humanism Society and Mary B. Martin School of the Arts at ETSU.
“I really wanted to motivate and encourage other people,” says Harvey, who lost her hearing because of nerve deterioration from Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. “That was always the driving force behind touring. It wasn’t self-glorification or getting any kind of acknowledgement for what I was doing. I just wanted to say that it’s okay to fail and to brush your knees off and stand back up and try again.”
That’s why Harvey decided to attempt America’s Got Talent. “I want to make people smile,” she says in the podcast. “I want to show a different side of what a disability looks like and say that there’s a bunch of invisible ones. I want to say that we can lift and encourage people instead of pushing them down. That’s what I want to do with my life.”
AGT Judge Simon Cowell found her singing “breathtaking” and he chose her as his Golden Buzzer for the 2017 season.
Her messages of encouragement have also struck a chord with groups and businesses around the globe. “Mandy’s extraordinary message of perseverance captures audiences completely and her music touches the soul,” says Voya Financial CEO Rod Martin.
Harvey’s mission to encourage and educate also includes a 2017 book, “Sensing the Rhythm: Finding My Voice in a World Without Sound,” a collection of “life lessons that I have painfully learned, and they’re all connected with stories about my life,” she says.
Academy Award winner Marlee Matlin applauds Harvey’s efforts. “Mandy Harvey’s journey is a reaffirmation of what I told reporters after I won my Academy Award,” Matlin says. “‘Silence is the last thing the world will ever hear from me.’ Mandy will never let deafness silence her, and she has aptly proven that deaf people can do anything.”
Harvey’s talk at the annual Evening of Health, Wellness & the Arts is also part of a larger event at ETSU, the second annual Festival of Ideas. The festival provides the opportunity for the exchange of ideas, information, and experiences between unique speakers, faculty experts, staff, students, community members and alumni around a central theme. This year’s theme is Dreams and Discord.
In addition to Harvey, an array of artists share their insights and perform. On Monday, Feb. 10, actor Melissa Fitzgerald talks about her work with the National Association of Drug Court Professionals; as senior director of Justice For Vets; and as cofounder of Voices in Harmony, a theater-focused mentoring organization for underserved teens. Wednesday, Feb. 12, features a community panel on voting, while Thursday, Feb. 13, Pulitzer-prize-winning presidential biographer, historian and commentator Jon Meacham presents “Songs of America,” based on his recent book that features eras of American patriotism and protest explored through the music of the time.
The Festival of Ideas concludes Friday, Feb. 14, with a performance of “Breach of Peace” by playwright and actor Mike Wiley — in which he explores the lives and legacies of historically important figures including Emmett Till, Jackie Robinson, the Freedom Riders and Henry “Box” Brown. For information on ETSU’s Festival of Ideas, visit etsu.edu/festival.
For more information on Harvey, visit mandyharveymusic.com.
For more information about the Martin School of the Arts events, visit www.etsu.edu/martin or call 423-439- 8587. For disability accommodations, call the ETSU Office of Disability Services at 423-439-8346.