Meet Mandy Harvey, the Deaf Singer Songwriter Who Performs Barefoot & Feels the Music Through Vibrations in the Ground

Attrac­tive young female singer-song­writ­ers who shuck their shoes onstage some­times find that this small attempt to pass them­selves off as folksy and “real” has the oppo­site effect.

Mandy Har­vey, how­ev­er, is above reproach. The deaf singer-song­writer per­forms bare­foot out of neces­si­ty, using her unclad soles to pick up on the vibra­tions of var­i­ous instru­ments through the floor­boards. It allows her to keep time and, in so doing, helps her to stay emo­tion­al­ly con­nect­ed to the oth­er musi­cians with whom she’s per­form­ing, as she told NPR ear­li­er this year, when she was one of 10 final­ists on Amer­i­ca’s Got Tal­ent.

“I’ll feel and con­cen­trate on the drums through the floor, through my feet and then the bass through your chest,” she said in an inter­view with Col­orado Pub­lic Radio. “And then if a sax­o­phone play­er is next to me then it will be on my arm. So you just des­ig­nate dif­fer­ent parts of your body so you can con­cen­trate on who’s play­ing what and when.”

Born with near per­fect pitch and a con­nec­tive tis­sue dis­or­der that impaired her hear­ing, she was able to pur­sue her love of music by rely­ing on hear­ing aids and lip read­ing until 18, when she final­ly lost her hear­ing for good, as a fresh­man Vocal Music Edu­ca­tion major at Col­orado State Uni­ver­si­ty.

While she has nev­er heard fel­low song­birds Adele or Tay­lor Swift, she has got­ten over the stage fright that plagued her when she still retained some hear­ing. Vocal­ly, she turns to mus­cle mem­o­ry and visu­al tuners to see her through.

Her tal­ent is such that some lis­ten­ers are con­vinced her deaf­ness is a pub­lic­i­ty stunt, a mis­per­cep­tion that eats at Wayne Con­nell, founder of the Invis­i­ble Dis­abil­i­ties Asso­ci­a­tion, a non-prof­it with whom Har­vey is active:

We’ve cre­at­ed an idea [of] how peo­ple are sup­posed to look when they’re bro­ken and so when you don’t fit that imag­i­nary mold, then it’s a trick, or you’re a liar — or you’re not real­ly bro­ken, so you should­n’t be doing cer­tain things.

See Har­vey per­form­ing bare­foot at the Kennedy Cen­ter on the 23rd anniver­sary of the Amer­i­cans with Dis­abil­i­ties Act, below.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Eve­lyn Glen­nie (a Musi­cian Who Hap­pens to Be Deaf) Shows How We Can Lis­ten to Music with Our Entire Bod­ies

How Inge­nious Sign Lan­guage Inter­preters Are Bring­ing Music to Life for the Deaf: Visu­al­iz­ing the Sound of Rhythm, Har­mo­ny & Melody

How Did Beethoven Com­pose His 9th Sym­pho­ny After He Went Com­plete­ly Deaf?

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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