photo by Reuben “Dubscience” Greene
by Petula Caesar
Baltimore is bursting at the seams with talent. Unfortunately, people fall into the habit of only looking in one direction for music. If you make that mistake around here, you will miss out on a LOT of great artists. One of the different directions I encourage you to look at is singer/songwriter Michelle Shellers. Her voice has the gift of being unexpectedly expansive in terms of range, depth and strength, while still having enough versatility to caress more delicate notes. Because of this she can shift from belting out soulful, fast tempo house tunes to fluttering through subtle, slower more nuanced songs with equal skill.
Photo by whatseatingcheff.com
Now some of you will nod your head and say to yourself, “oh yeah. Shellers. Yeah. She does sing, doesn’t she?” A few others will say, “Shellers? She sings?” The answer in both cases is yes, she definitely does. Not only does she sing, she is the vocalist behind the monster house music anthem “Rise”, a track you can hear playing at any nightclub in any part of the world. As a result of “Rise”, Shellers joined the ranks of Baltimore-based house music legends like Ultra Nate, DJ Spen and Thommy Davis. “House music was kinda accidental,” she admits. “My first time recording in the studio ever was Rise. Once that hit, I had a name in the world of house music and kept getting work…” work that has taken her around the world to perform in huge venues in front of literally thousands of people. Not bad for a “Baltimore Girl”. (“I grew up in northwest Baltimore, I rep Dolfield and Garrison.”)
All of this started on October 28, 1978 when Michelle Herring was born to a classically trained vocalist mom and a dad who fronted a popular doo wop group. (And her grandmother, Guin Michaels was a recording artist who led an all-male orchestra on a USO tour in the South Pacific.) “My family is big into music overall. When we get together for holidays we pull out the karaoke machine and go in for hours.” Her first forays into music were with the violin, which she studied until 7th grade. When she began attending Western High School she played percussion instruments in concert band and snare in marching band. She did join the choir as well, but in spite of all the music all around her, she didn’t think that would be her path in life. She knew she could sing well in part because of “the reaction my parents had to me singing Angela Bofill in the back seat.” But she still wasn’t convinced, saying, “I thought I was going to be a clinical child psychologist.”
After participating in the AKA Aspiring Young Artist competition, an opportunity to advance her music studies presented itself. “I laughed when I was offered a music scholarship to Morgan,” she says. “At the time I had no intention of studying music in college. I ended up doing a vocal minor at Howard and then a few years later attended Morgan anyway.” At Morgan, Shellers was polished by the legendary late Dr. Nathan Carter and the Morgan Choir. “Prior to working with the choir, I only sang for fun,” she explains. “That was my first time doing music professionally. Although we were a college choir, we were world renowned and performed in venues like The Kennedy Center in DC and the Lincoln in New York. It also exposed me to singing different styles of music and forced me to read music while singing.”
Photo by whatseatingcheff.com
As she continued to sing, it also meant facing the challenges vocalists face to maintain their voices. This is especially true for Shellers, who has spent her fair share of time slaying the power ballads of Minnie Riperton, Phyllis Hyman, Cheryl Lynn, and Amy Winehouse — music she loves. “The singers saaaaaang,” she says. “The arrangements were fierce, and I can relate to much of the lyrical content.” But that takes its toll over time. “A few years ago I lost much of my upper range,” she shares. “It just wasn’t there one day. I could barely sing at all. I was devastated. I ended up going to an otolaryngologist at Johns Hopkins and discovered I have nodules on my vocal cords. It comes from all the power singing I have done through the years. The first step was therapy with a speech/language pathologist and if that didn’t work they wanted to do surgery. Fortunately for me I was able to recover things through speech/language therapy.”
Developing her talent has also meant finding all kinds of outlets for it, from the house music that has taken her around the globe where she “met some amazing people, been treated like a superstar, and have gotten to experience many different cultures”…
…to working with Baltimore-based Stinkiface Music. She has recorded several songs with Femi TheDriFish in addition to her own singles, and finds other interesting ways to make her presence felt in the local arts scene. (She freely admits she loves to dress up.)
Currently, she has started on what she currently considers a “dream project” called “Flipped Faves”, which features her reworking some of her favorite songs. The first single from the project is a cover of Jean Carne’s “Was That All It Was” with Wendel Patrick on production (and its available as a free download on Soundcloud through the link below). “I figure out collaborations based on the tune. It’ll just pop in my head like wow this person would be awesome on this. And I go from there.”
She has also joined forces with house music diva and close friend Michelle Weeks to form “The Steamdollz”, and the two of them will be recording music for that project as well.
Photo by whatseatingcheff.com
In addition to all of this, Shellers has worked in Baltimore City Public Schools for well over a decade. She is also involved in several other community causes like Baltimore Girls, Baltimore Community Mediation, Baltimore Arts Education Coalition and the DC Grammy Chapter. “I have been a voting member of the Recording Academy since 2008. Since joining I have really stepped up to the plate when it comes to the advocacy arm, through Grammys On the Hill and related smaller projects I enjoy the lobbyist aspect, fighting for and securing musicians rights on Capitol Hill…I do a variety of things for fun from high end cultural events to just hanging out with friends at a local pub.” She also “loves playing dress up” and she “likes to eat my ice cream and pudding with plastic spoons.”
But in spite of how busy she is professionally and socially, music is still her focus. “I will be pushing The Steamdollz EP once it drops. I will still be collaborating with producers and dropping singles. I am still planning on putting out a solo EP/album. I just want to create some timeless, meaningful tunes and have as many folks dig them as possible.”
Check out Michelle Shellers online at www.michelleshellers.com.