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Glorifying God and Encouraging Others.
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Interview with Marshalee
Marshalee Ellis-Kehlhem loves God and music. She loves not only making music, but also teaching others how to praise God in their own way. A Jamaican immigrant to the U.S., Marshalee is committed to worshiping God and ministering to others through song. Her reggae-flavored blend of Gospel music sports energy and strong vocals that will remind you of vocalists like Nirva Ready and Mandisa. Marshalee's testimony of faith through hard times will inspire and encourage you to keep going. Like she loves to say, "If you have Jesus, everything is going to be okay."
When did you first discover an interest in Gospel music?
I grew up in the church my mother, Hilda Rochester, and she saw to it that I went to church with my older cousin and sister every Sunday. I've been going to church since I was four or five years old, so I was introduced to gospel music around that time. I committed my life to Christ at the age of twelve, got baptized, and became active in my church's drama club and choirs--both of which involved a lot of singing. I had many opportunities to be a soloist.
Your journey as a Gospel artist has brought and taken you many places! Not only have you toured the United States, but also Jamaica, where you were born. Tell us a little bit about your life in Jamaica. How did it influence your love for music?
My mother played music every weekend, so it always sounded like a concert was going on in my house! With my natural draw towards music, I played music pretty much every day. When I wasn't playing it, I was singing it! My father, Prince Ellis, was also a singer. He sang in a group for a while in Jamaica. Almost of the radio music in Jamaica is reggae. As a result, when you live in Jamaica, you hear reggae all day long! As a singer and song writer, that influenced me so much. I believe God intended for me to combine reggae and gospel music styles in my albums and stage presentations. He prepared me for that through the culture He caused me to be born and raised in.
This ministry has led you to some other interesting places as well--like the White House! What did it feel like when you took the stage at the National Day of Prayer event?
Yes, I sang at a White House National Day of Prayer event which took place on the Ellipse in Washington DC. It was attended by several of President Obama's cabinet members. Churches from all across the United States and Canada were there. Several political leaders from the Caribbean were also in attendance. There may have been about five thousand people in all. As the buses unloaded the attendees filed neatly onto the Ellipse bearing their countries' flags as and gathered together for a day of prayer and worship. It was truly a beautiful and great event. I took the stage to sing "Praise Ya," and "God's Favor," from my first CD titled God's Favor. I had a blast! The organizer of the event was the Reverend Dr. Terry Lee, who is actually a childhood friend of mine. He has organized this event with the White House for 10+ years.
Do you get nervous before performing? What is your advice to girls who are afraid to sing on stage?
Believe it or not, yes, I do get nervous before performing! My advice to girls who are afraid to sing on stage is this:
1. Prepare prepare prepare by practicing your solo four or five times a day.
2. Pray and invite the Holy Spirit to guide you as you rehearse.
3. Record yourself when you practice the song so that you can hear what sounds right and what doesn't. This will help you know what to fix.
4. Be prayerful on the day of your presentation. As you take the mic, focus on the Holy Spirit. Ask Him to guide you in the delivery of the song: only He knows what the listeners need to hear in your song to be blessed.
5. You have an audience of only one: God! When you sing, you're singing to God, who gave you your talent. So picture Him only in front of you and sing to Him. Don't focus on the crowd; your mission is to send praise up to God. He will send blessings down to the people hearing your praise. I love to say that when the praises go up, the blessings come down.
6. Finally, God loves you and doesn't care if you are singing a pretty note or not. He will honor you and bless you for using what He has given you to praise Him and bless the people around you. That being said, God is worthy of your most excellent praise, so be a good steward. Develop your gift, whatever it may be, and use it to bring God glory.
One of your new singles, "Follow," talks about following God's plan through tough times. How has that been a struggle for you recently?
"Follow," is about my dedication to follow Christ wherever He leads me on this journey. It's a song to encourage anyone who is dedicated to living and following the call God has placed in their heart. I encourage those people to keep shining and keep pressing toward the desire God has placed in your heart. You will receive a prize worth your hard work if you keep working toward that goal. When the troubles and trials seem to just rain down in my life, I stop and ask God, "Why do you love me so much? Why do you continue to want me to grow? God, I understand that a diamond shines best when it is cut and carved many times. That way, the light can reflect on it even brighter." It's hard, but take your "cuts" because it's God making and forming you into a diamond. When you get knocked down it's God's way of preparing you mentally and spiritually to take you higher. Don't be afraid and don't feel devastated by failures or hard times. Know that God is with you. Trust that! Expect that! Believe that! He says to rejoice when you find yourself in difficult situations because it presents the opportunity for Him to show up and prove His love. We won't always have our way. We won't always get the things that we pray for. But pray any way. Talk to God about everything. Know that whatever His will may be, it will be perfect, and it will work on your behalf in the long run. He says all things are working together for your good (Romans 8). If God has allowed you to enter the path of His calling, He will also carry you through it. Just trust in Him and stay in communication with Him through prayer and worship. Rejoice in all things. No matter what, just give God the praise and glory!
Your other single, "By His Blood," is a worship song about Jesus's sacrifice for us. What inspired that song?
The song basically says that God doesn't hold my past failures and mistakes against me. All I have to do is confess my sins to Him, ask for forgiveness, and continue moving forward in obeying His word. God offers the same freedom to you because He says you're worth it. You are His and He loves you. Forgiveness is available to everyone. All we need to do is ask. We are flawed humans, but the blood that Christ shed for us on the cross at Calvary was the sacrifice to cover all our sins. We just need to just confess to Him that specific sin and ask for forgiveness like this: "Father, please forgive and help me not to do that wrong thing anymore." And then it's done! We are forgiven By His Blood! It's that easy!
Aside from being an independent Gospel artist, you also have a passion for teaching kids to sing with your annual free voice lessons and choral program. Tell us about that ministry and what led you to start it.
God spoke to my heart one day and told me to do. Don't be surprised if, when you ask the Lord for something, His response to you is that you give. He says it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). When He gives us gifts, it's so we can give it to others and be a blessing. This is how God trains us to not be selfish. The Free Voice Lesson & Choral Program is the way God told me to give back. For the past five years I have offered this program to youth ages five to nineteen. Each year between fifty to eighty kids and teens participate. The program consists of eight two-hour sessions on Saturdays. In those sessions, I teach several gospel songs, as well as various vocal techniques. The techniques I teach are about how to sing with confidence, create good vocal tones, and improve your vocal range. God has used this program to bless me. I love these kids! They touch my life so much. They are all precious! With the experiences I have had on various stages, at various events, recording, and working with some of the best secular and gospel producers in the music industry, I have a lot to share, and I'm happy to serve God's people this way.
What is the main message you want listeners to take away from your music?
There is hope in Jesus Christ. Live for Him, and you won't find a greater love on earth! You won't find an existence that allows you to have greater inner peace than one lived for Him.
What challenges did you face as a teenager? What is something you wish you had known when you were younger?
I was bullied since first grade in Jamaica, so much so that I would try to be the first person out of school when it dismissed. I always tried to run home before someone could tease, fight, or beat on me. Having escaped, I would breathe a sigh of relief, get a snack, and sing my heart happy! Thank God for music and singing--it was always my happy and safe place. Bullying got worse when I moved to the U.S. in the ninth grade. The ninth grade is hard for most kids, but added to that, I had no money for new clothes, I talked funny with a strong Jamaican accent, and I had deep dark skin and a big nose. I just didn't fit in. I never felt pretty. By the time I reached tenth grade, my confidence was totally shot. I had no interest in school, and all I wanted to do was stay in bed with the sheets over my head. I was depressed, suicidal and lost all hope and interest in living. God started healing me from the inside out at the beginning of the eleventh grade. By the end of that year, my life did a complete turnaround. I founded the Caribbean Club in my high school so kids coming from the Caribbean wouldn't experience the same isolation I did. I was also elected Assistant Vice President of the EA Counsel for the Bronx Borough and crowned Miss Bronx. As a senior, I won the High School Senior Class President election. I was even one of three delegates selected to represent New York at the National Young Leaders Conference in Washington D.C.! You see, though I gave my heart to Christ when I was twelve, I still had to go through difficulties. Everyone will have trials in this life. But God was there with me all the time, and that made all the difference. That was what allowed me to recover. If we were never in trouble, we wouldn't know He could deliver us. God can do a miracle for you just as He did it for me. So, if I had to advise my teenage self, I would say to her, "You're going to be okay!" I shared this story so that teens and pre-teens who may be struggling in all sorts of circumstances will know that you're going to be okay. With Jesus Christ in your life, things will turn out just fine.
Thank you for joining us! Do you have any other advice for teen/tween girls in general?
Know your worth! As girls God made us to want relationships. We all desire to connect to others. But be careful about whom you connect with and how you build relationships with others, especially guys. Keep your relationships holy and unadulterated. It's possible, believe me! You will be tempted to do things the wrong way, but if you resist, it will be so worth it! Let that guy marry you first--you're worth it. God will make it worth it by putting the right people in your life. You are so valuable! Christ loved you so much He was willing to die for you--and He did (John 15:13). In dying for you, He proved His love. He says you don't have to live in guilt or shame for one more day. If you follow Jesus He will never leave you. Love is a verb. Remember that love is a verb--it's an action word. If someone loves you the proof will be their actions toward you. If they don't love you it will show in their actions toward you as well. The guidelines of love are found in 1 Corinthians 13. Use that chapter to know if you or someone else is acting in love or not. That is how you should show love and be loved.
Want to connect with Marshalee? Follow her on Twitter @MarshaleeMusic and like her page on Facebook under "Marshalee, Gospel Songstress." You can find her two new singles, "Follow" and "By His Blood," on her website, http://www.marshaleemusic.com .
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