Singer Steve Grand scraped his savings together to make a music video, but the hopeful 23-year-old never anticipated how quickly his All-American Boy would go viral and change his life.
“No one was helping me. I saved up between $2,000 and $2,500—which isn’t a lot—by playing at a jazz club and churches, and I maxed out the credit card,” he recalled. “But I was ready to do something.”
Music had always been an important part of Grand’s life growing up in suburban Chicago. As a youngster, he was inspired by Schroeder, the piano playing character in the Charlie Brown cartoons.
“I was probably four years old and I would make little cardboard models of pianos. I’d sit at them and pretend to play,” Grand said.
Before long, Grand was writing and performing his own songs, primarily as a way to cope with life in his small Illinois community.
“Adolescence is hard enough….compounded with that, I realized I was gay. Music was my escape….this dream that I would be able to express my pain and what I was feeling.”
Grand’s parents panicked when they discovered his orientation and sent him to a Christian therapist. Fortunately, his parents have “come a long way” and embraced his career and sudden fame as an openly gay musician.
Grand posted the video on YouTube on July 2 and just two days later, it was featured on Buzzfeed.com. Facebook shares grew exponentially and blogs picked the video up. Less than a week later, Grand received a call from producers at Good Morning America and he made his first national television appearance.
“My head is still spinning,” Grand humbly admitted, crediting the enthusiastic fans who quickly embraced his music.
He has been labeled the “first gay country music star,” but is hesitant to be pigeonholed too soon. Grand studied for a year at Nashville’s Belmont University and agrees “something rubbed off on me,” but he never set out to be a country artist.
Grand elaborated, “I’m truly a songwriter at heart, rather than a performer. How the song is produced depends on the story and the message and the feeling I’m trying to convey. I’m never thinking about what genre when I’m writing, I think as people hear more of my music, the (country label) will go away.”
In just a few months, the singer has been swept away on a whirlwind tour of the country and, on Saturday, Nov. 23, will land in South Florida for a concert at Fort Lauderdale’s Sunshine Cathedral.
Audiences will enjoy live performances of his first two YouTube hits, All-American Boy, and the follow up, Stay, as well as the rock ‘n roll oldies he grew up listening to with his father and some contemporary pop hits. And, there is plenty of “banter” with the audience in between songs, too.
The travel has been one of the most rewarding aspects of his success, giving him the opportunity to meet fans, but more importantly, a chance to hear their stories. The relationship with his fans is, in his words, “truly sacred.”
He’s heard moving stories of other LGBT people who also grew up in small communities and struggled with their sexuality. It’s also not unusual now for him to be recognized on the street and his mailbox is filled with encouraging messages.
“What’s been really so amazing is being able to touch so many people through my music, which is what I care most about. I dreamed about being able to make music, but never expected anything like this,” Grand said.
When he’s not traveling the country or performing at home in Chicago, he devotes his time to writing and recording more songs:
“I should take some more time to let things sink in, but I also take this seriously and put a lot of pressure on myself. I’m so grateful because so many people work their whole lives to have a career in music and now I’ve got it.”
If You Go
What: Steve Grand in concert
When: Saturday, Nov. 23, 8 p.m.
Where: Sunshine Cathedral, 1480 SW 9th Ave., Fort Lauderdale
How much: Tickets $30 in advance, $40 at the door, $50 VIP reception and concert