Artist Profile

Recently, I caught up with another musician and Swarthmore alum (class of 2012), and asked her about her musical memories and process.  Cecily is truly a rising star: a vocalist and songwriter who, among other accomplishments, recently sang the national anthem at a Nationals baseball game.  Her voice is sweet, vulnerable and soulful, and her songs are catchy and compelling.  

Artist Interview

I On the Arts: How did you get into making music and writing songs?  What instruments do you play?

Cecily: I started taking voice lessons when I was 12 and I’ve been singing ever since. I remember writing lyrics & melodies at 5 years old, but I didn’t start taking songwriting seriously until college. My sophomore year I began making myself write songs, as opposed to solely focusing on poetry. Songwriting is usually an inspiringly challenging art form, and occasionally a liberatingly effortless one. It’s a craft I’m still developing. 

My main instrument is my voice. I’ve dabbled with guitar and piano in the past, but not enough to really do anything interesting. My voice is what I have the most fun playing & experimenting with. 

IOtA: What musicians and music teachers have inspired you most?

C: I’ve been lucky to have quite amazing and adept voice teachers and choir directors. They all have taught me things I still turn back to almost everyday when rehearsing. 

In terms of musicians that have inspired me the most, I’d have to go back to the originals for me, three artists I’ve been consistently inspired by since I can remember: Lauryn Hill, Chaka Khan, and Anita Baker. 

Lately, I’ve been taking a lot of inspiration from 1970’s artists who seamlessly fused genres, specifically Terry Callier and Patrice Rushen. 

IOtA: How did the Swarthmore community affect your music?

C: Swarthmore gave me an opportunity to begin to take myself seriously as a solo artist. It also provided me with many supportive audiences to experiment and grow in front of. In retrospect, that was invaluable for me. 

IOtA: What made you decide to become a professional musician?

C: I think being at Swarthmore drove me to madness and that’s what led me to decide to be a professional musician! Just kidding, just kidding…. kind of!

During the summer break after my freshman year my parents and I took a trip to the Umbria Jazz Festival. A fellow Swattie, Vaneese Thomas, class of 1974, was performing at the festival. It was while I was there, watching so many people on stage, that I decided that’s where I really wanted to be. I realized in a self-reflective moment that I never felt more alive than when I was performing. I decided in that moment that music might be my true calling. 

I think that Swarthmore also gives you so much information at once that it’s easy to become disillusioned with the world. Once I realized that all my grand schemes to change the world would not be as easy to execute as I once thought, and that many had tried similar things and had neither failed nor succeeded, I began to rethink my path. I’ve always deeply understood the power of music. I’ve always been aware that the right song at the right moment can truly save a life. With this understanding, my heart grew to hold onto the hope that I could impact more people with music than by spending my days fighting for small policy changes.

IOtA: What themes and ideas/emotions inspire your songs and lyrics?

C: Mostly love, and more recently, fear. Writing songs forces me to become more self-aware. Many times I’m not even in touch with the source of my words. It’s not until I read them back later that I realize that my subconscious was working through something. Through words and melody I’m able to be more honest than I ever could in everyday moments, simply because you have to cope through a lot of bullshit in life and it’s impossible to be consciously vulnerable all the time. 

Writing allows me to embrace the uncertainty and face it. It helps me work through my fears and personal failures. It also helps me get more in touch with love: love of family, love of self, love of a significant other. 

Also, songwriting lets you tell you story. You can write something as you wish it was instead of how it actually might be. That’s always fun. 

IOtA: Are there plans for a full-length album?  What projects are you working on now?

C: I’m currently working on an EP of 5 original songs. I have no plans to release a full-length album for a while. I will follow the EP with a single, or perhaps a shorter EP or even a live album. I want to experiment by recording some of my favorite not-so-well-known 1970’s songs by Terry Callier, Gil Scott-Heron and others. Reinterpreting songs I love helps me discover aspects of my own aesthetic I want to embrace. 

IOtA: How long does it take you to write a song? Do you write the music or the lyrics first?

C: The amount of time I spend writing a complete song has varied from 10 minutes to over a year. Sometimes I’m lucky enough that lyrics and melody come to me all at once as a complete idea. Then, because I don’t play an instrument, I seek out a co-writer to finish it. Sometimes I write down a lyric idea or record a melodic line that I come back to months later and expand on. I don’t have a solid process, although I’m trying to build one now, which basically consists of trying to write at least a little something everyday. 

IOtA: What is your best memory of performing or writing music?

C: It’s so hard to choose. I recall quite a few that were special. One of my favorites was performing at DC’s Intersections festival at The Atlas earlier this year. I trusted the folks who played with me, and the audience was right there with me. I felt like I got to truly express who I am. There was something just a little magic about it. 

Singing the national anthem at Nationals baseball stadium was pretty damn cool too. My mother was smiling so big at me and there were so many people there, about 30,000. It felt good to kill that performance. It made me feel like there’s nothing I can’t do. 

IOtA: What is the most challenging aspect of being a musician?

C: For me it has been the learning curve. I’ve never really studied music theory or music business and there is so so much to learn. Second to that would have to be finding ways to make money. As an independent artist you are truly an entrepreneur. Like anyone starting a business you need to invest a lot at first and you won’t see a return for quite some time. That’s not easy. Lastly, I think most artists, including myself, experience a fair amount of self-doubt. Every time you let someone hear something new you’ve been working on, there’s that moment when you are like, “What if this actually sucks and I just don’t realize it.” 

Eventually I think, one becomes more confident in ways that allow you to simultaneously believe in your work, see its brilliance, and be critical of it. 


  1. amazing voice! great interview too! keep us posted on when the album will be available!


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