Mariea Antoinette

Talking with Mariea Antoinette about “So Amazing”

Smooth jazz/urban jazz harpist Mariea Antoinette recently unveiled the single/music video for “So Amazing,” her numinous cover of Luther Vandross’ classic hit song.

According to Carol Banks Weber, “Mariea Antoinette is living proof that a visionary artist can bust out of traditional boxes on pure ability alone.”

After studying music at UC San Diego, followed by Master classes in harp performance at the University of Arizona, where she studied under Elena Mashkovtseva, Ms. Antoinette has performed for President Barack Obama, been featured with chart-topping pop and soul groups, prestigious symphonies, and festivals worldwide.

With considerations for Grammy nominations in multiple categories, the Billboard-charting Antoinette has never let the classical confines expected of the harp keep her from creating her own signature sound. Infusing her work with influences from R&B, soul, jazz, and funk, she creates music reflecting her personality in a way that makes the harp “fire.”

Her solo performances have taken her across the US and abroad. Ms. Antoinette has performed and recorded with a variety of artists and events including Ne-Yo, Jamie Foxx, The BET Awards, and American Idol.

CelebMix spoke with Mariea Antoinette to discover the genesis of “So Amazing,” how she got started in music and the evolution of her sound.

What three things can’t you live without?

Obviously, my harps. My family. And the beach which I live very close to and provides me the serenity and spiritual enrichment that I need to stay grounded and present … and most importantly creatively curious and adventurous!

What inspired your beautiful cover of Luther Vandross’ So Amazing?”

It was actually a beautiful accident. I have always been booked for weddings and this particular bride wanted something special and personal, so I asked her who were her favorite artists, and she gave me a list with four or five names on it … one of which was Luther Vandross. Personally, I’ve always loved Luther’s music … it was instantly identifiable and always touched something deep inside my soul. So I started going through his discography and selected a few songs that I thought would work for this engagement. ‘So Amazing’ was perfect because of its tempo and chord structure in that it lends very nicely to a harp interpretation. I played it at the wedding as the bride was walking up the aisle and at the end of the song there was a standing ovation … except it wasn’t for the bride – it was for ME! At that point, I instantly knew I had to recapture that magic and record it … I called my producer the very next day and we were in the studio within a week!

Who directed the video and where was it shot?

The video was directed by Eric J. Chambers, and it was shot at the beautiful estate of a very close friend in Elfin Forest, Rancho Santa Fe, California.

What do you want people to take away from the music video?

Well, it was my very first official music video that wasn’t a live performance so I really wanted something that would capture people’s attention with its grandeur, opulence, and scale. Once we secured the location, I knew it would be the perfect backdrop for ‘So Amazing’ because the visuals would be so amazing! The song is already so ethereal and sonically mesmerizing and with the harp as the lead instrument rather than Luther’s silky smooth vocals, I felt that it gave the music an even more ‘heavenly’ essence … something that I wanted the listener to feel as well and I think we achieved it!

How did you get started in music?

Like a lot of musicians, I grew up with music playing in my household 24/7. Lots of Motown, Stax, Gamble & Huff, gospel, jazz, actually a little bit of everything. So, I was already kind of ‘wired’ to become musically predisposed. In grade school, one of my teachers would occasionally have a musician come to our classroom and play their instrument and we would ask them questions. One day a woman came in with her harp and I’d never seen or heard anything quite like that before and I was immediately spellbound. From that day on I knew that was going to be my life’s passion … the way in which I could express my innermost thoughts and emotions even more vividly than words could ever imagine. I have since come to understand that the harp is my ‘superpower’ and it gives me universal strength to change the world through my music!

Where are you from?

I was actually born in Toledo, Ohio but my parents moved out to San Diego when I was only five years old and I really don’t have many memories of Ohio, so for all intents and purposes I’m a Southern California girl!

Did your hometown impact your sound?

Yes of course! Growing up in San Diego with the gorgeous year-round weather and beaches and beautiful people definitely affects your outlook on life where you believe that almost anything is possible. Also, being a little Black girl in school when in many cases I was the only one in the classroom presents its own set of formative influences which I think made me strive even harder for personal excellence. I knew there were always ‘eyes’ on me because I stood out and I never wanted to disappoint my parents or the small African American community in San Diego. That pressure made me comfortable with being ‘unique’ and gave me a strong sense of self-confidence that I think comes across in my music and in my on-stage presence!

Which artists in your opinion are killing it right now?

Right now? Hmmmm … there are so many artists who I have admired and who provided me inspiration over the years like Alice Coltrane, Dorothy Ashby, Stevie Wonder, and Earth, Wind & Fire. But right now, there are several musicians on the scene I’m really digging … this young jazz guitarist named Adam Hawley who just has this incredible on-stage energy and really clean production value on his LPs as well as his live performances … you can tell he is well-studied and takes his craft very seriously. The other (and I might be a little biased here because he is my friend) is saxophonist Eric Darius who I have been on the lineup with (with my own band) at a couple of festivals and he is just a crowd favorite and has amazing stage presence which explains why he works non-stop year-round. I would kill to have his schedule … then again that just might kill me! (laughs) Also, there’s a jazz singer here in San Diego named Rebecca Jade whose vocal stylings I absolutely love!

If you had to describe your sound to the uninitiated, what would you say?

Expect the unexpected. Even though I’m primarily in the Smooth Jazz category, I hate being categorized. When I’m in the studio with my producer Allan Phillips the first thing we always say is what can we do differently on this album that will surprise people? If you go back and listen to my prior three LPs I’ve really tried to mix it up and defy genres. We’ve done some amazing covers of Barry White, Curtis Mayfield, Minnie Riperton, Stevie Wonder, and even Heatwave … but I’m most proud of our original compositions like ‘Overture’ from my last LP ‘All My Strings’ which I think really expands my musical voice in a way that my fans haven’t necessarily heard before. We’ve also done some ‘spoken word’ so I’m very excited about some of the boundaries we are pushing!

What is your definition of success?

Well aside from living in that mansion where we shot ‘So Amazing’ (laughs) … I really just feel blessed to be able to make a living doing something that I love so deeply. On top of that being a Black woman playing a non-traditional instrument like the harp and leading her own band in a musical genre (jazz) that has pretty much been a ‘boys club’ and still is to a large degree … but I do feel like I’m knocking down some doors and providing inspiration for other young Black girls to follow their dreams. You know the saying … If you can see it, you can achieve it! So to me, if I’m able to have the same impact on little girls that that harpist had on me in the 6th grade then I know I’m a success!

What can your fans expect over the next six months? New material? Live gigs?

Yes … BOTH! We’re currently in the studio working on my fourth LP tentatively scheduled to drop in late Spring/early Summer and we’re again cooking up a few surprises … can’t really say too much because I don’t want to spoil it (and Allan will kill me!), but if you saw the halftime show at last year’s Super Bowl that might give you a little clue! And my team is working feverishly to get me on as many festival stages this Spring and Fall … so if you are a festival/venue promoter and reading this please contact me at!

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Written by Randy

Randy Radic is a Left Coast author and writer. Author of numerous true crime books written under the pen-name of John Lee Brook. Former music contributor at Huff Post.