EXCLUSIVE: Marcia Hines shares the moments in life that have moved her heart and soul

“There’s more to life than we know...”

Marcia Hines has the voice of an angel. Not some fragile, ethereal angel, but an earthy angel with a song powerful and clear enough to send the devil packing. 

Growing up in Boston, she inherited a mighty spiritual and musical legacy from her single, “God-fearing” mother, who taught her strength and kindness in equal measure, and from her godmother, who played piano and sang in the church choir. 

Now, aged 70, Marcia is giving voice to these early influences – and others, including the role that brought her to stardom in Jesus Christ Superstar – with a new album, The Gospel According to Marcia

When we meet in a cafe overlooking Sydney Harbour, she’s just had her nails painted blue, she wears jeans, her hair is in braids, she’s animated and ageless. She has two more gigs left on a national tour before she launches into Australian Idol, then a schedule that barely gives her room to breathe until next winter, which delights her.

Work feeds her soul. And she is looking forward to Christmas, which has always been a special time of year for Marcia, who reminisces over her favourite things about the holiday’s as a child.

“Everything. The snow – Boston’s freezing. It would get so cold, school would close. So, it was that magical feeling that you see on Christmas cards. We decorated the tree – always a fresh Christmas tree.”

Whilst remembering her early Christmas’s, Marcia begins to discuss one of her biggest influences as a child, her godmother, Florence James.

“Flo was from Jamaica, like my mother. She was very well-spoken and patient. She was blind and taught me a little about braille, though I don’t remember it now. I’d spend New Year’s Eve every year with my godmother, and we’d watch [the celebrations in] Times Square. I felt very grown-up.” Marcia continues, “She had a beautiful piano – an upright white piano. She’d play, and I’d listen. She was a very accomplished musician. I don’t think she knew she was influencing me. It wasn’t that. It was just the company. Except for one niece, all her family were in Jamaica. So my mum, my brother and I were her family. Godmothers are very influential in people’s lives.”

Florence’s love for music infiltrated Marcia’s life, as she would accompany her godmother to choir practice.

“I remember walking into the church with her. It was pretty, but it was relatively poor. I loved the wood, all the piers. The choir singers wore white robes with a blue ribbon. I had to behave because children weren’t allowed in the pulpit where the grown-ups sang. But because Flo was blind, I was allowed to guide her in and then sit there and listen.”

” I remember hearing How Great Thou Art and I’ve put that on my album. The Lord’s Prayer, Down by the Riverside. I don’t think I knew what a harmony was then, but I’d listen and try to work out who was singing the different parts and who sang the loudest, which was always my godmother. She was the lead, and she sang beautifully. I felt very privileged to be there.”

Whilst Marcia attended choir practice with Florence, her mother would also have Marcia accompany her to the Church of England.

“I remember going there when there wasn’t a service on. There was a lovely lady called Mrs Fowler, and she didn’t mind me coming in and playing the pedal organ – badly.”

Growing up during the civil rights era in the US, Marcia was a part of a social experiment in high school.

“During the Martin Luther King movement, black children were ‘bussed’ out of their area to white schools … When I was about 13, I was bussed out to Hamilton, Massachusetts, and I stayed with a white family. They billeted me five days a week, and I’d go home on the weekend.”

Reminiscing on her experience, Marcia expresses how good the family were to her as a young teenager.

“The Andersons. They had a daughter my age, Lisa, so I shared a room with her. She was the most wonderful girl. And her mother was very encouraging. She knew I loved music, so she organised for me to go to the New England Conservatory of Music to study opera. I got a scholarship. She’d drive me there.”

When asked about the other girls that attended her school, Marcia explained, “There were no other black kids there … I often say, it doesn’t matter what colour you are, girls can be mean. If I was at school with all black girls, they could have been mean.”

“But I had a great mother. I’d go home and she’d say, “Marcia, you can’t like everyone and everyone can’t like you – just go to school. Go to school and do your best.””

From a young age, Marcia’s mother imparted a strong sense of self-belief onto her.

“My mum led beautifully by example. She was a single mother because my dad had died when I was six months old. You don’t really think about it as a kid, but as an older person, you reflect and you go, “wow, you did great, Ma”. “

Growing up, Marcia was exposed to gospel music, and often had not choice but to ponder it’s meaning.

“My mother was a God-fearing woman. Most black women are. They read their Bible. Not me, but anyway … It was a wonderful upbringing. Most black children in America, you’re taught manners, you’re taught humility, you’re taught kindness, all in church. And you watch people. You watch them being kind to one another.”

Looking back at her experience with music, Marcia has one distinct moment that stands out to her.

“I remember sitting on the floor with my hands on my face, watching Mahalia Jackson singing for President Kennedy at his inauguration. My mother saw me, and she tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Marcia, one day that could be you.””

“I just said, “thanks Ma”. “

It’s pretty incredible that the little girl watching Mahalia Jackson didn’t know that one day she would become Australia’s Queen of Pop. When asked if she ever imagined this would be where she ended up, Marcia responded, ” Oh God, no. I just got a gig. My career started when I came to Australia at 16. Like most performers, I just wanted to sing.”

“I came to Australia for six months to perform in Hair. But it felt right, and I had a daughter while I was here, and a good support system because some of the kids in Hair had babies too, and I was able to bring my mother out. So, I felt comfortable here, and I stayed. Things – will I say they fell into place?” She continues, “I just know I’m living a blessed life. I couldn’t script this. It’s an amazing life and I’m grateful every day that I’m alive.”

The singer describes herself as always being a spiritual person.

“I’m quite aware of the gift that I’ve been given – my voice. I’ve heard other musicians speak about how amazing it is when you play your instrument or you stand there and you sing your instrument, and it’s a spiritual thing.” When she sings she can feel it. “I grin. I grin a lot.”

But what about the difference in that experience of a gospel or pop show?

“To be honest. I believe that, when we did those gospel shows at St. Stephen’s Church [in Sydney back in 2022], we all needed a bit of God. Those kids who sang with me, from the Mt Druitt Choir, were such  heartfelt, beautiful singers. We were just coming out of COVID and we all needed to hook ourselves back into whatever we believed in. I asked at the start, “How many people believe in God? It doesn’t matter to me, but I’d like to know.”

“I think a lot of people believe in something. There’s Buddhism,Hinduism, being a Muslim. You tell me that tree is your god, I say, “knock yourself out – good”. I think everybody’s got their own belief, their own god, and that’s not a bad thing.”

Marcia admits that the Christian God she grew up with is no longer her God.

“I feel something omnipresent. I respect what people believe in, and to me, as long as it’s positive, as long as it’s loving, I’m with you all the way.”

She then begins to describe one of many epiphanies she’s had.

“I was reading Out on a Limb by Shirley MacLaine. And I was in Jesus Christ Superstar. To go on stage as Mary [Magdalene], I had to crouch very low behind the black curtains, then I’d stand up and walk on and the light would hit me.” She continues, “One night, I remember crouching down and watching myself come out of the crouch, and saying to myself, “Whatever you do, don’t freak out.” And I went on and sang I Don’t Know How to Love Him, and stood there and turned around to where I had to exit and crouched back into my body and stood up again. But I’d left me. I’d been two entities … It might sound weird but it’s true.”

“The wonderful thing about these things that happen is that sometimes you try to place them into words, and you can’t. It’s just one of those fascinating things.”

Shirley MacLaine was another huge influence on Marcia.

“I found Shirley an incredible human being because she exposed herself and what she thought of the world that we live in. People would say, “Like Irma la Duce, she’s crazy”. She’s not crazy, she’s just exploring life. I love it. How many people are that game? Not many. “

The aforementioned experience on Jesus Christ Superstar, made Marcia believe that there is more to life than we know.

With such a strong connected to her godmother, Marcia cherishes her relationships with her own three goddaughters.

“They give me a great amount of love, and humour. They’re all very funny. My oldest goddaughter is a very smart girl and she runs banks now in Victoria. My next goddaughter is 11 and she is doing brilliantly at school. The youngest one is two, so we’re just watching her. I love the honesty and the love that children give you. And you might not want to hear it, but they’ll give you the truth. They’re not tarnished.”

When asked what she gives to them in return, Marcia reveals, “I say, be kind to everybody. It doesn’t matter what they look like, where they come from. Kindness is real. Be kind.”

Catch Marcia on stage in Grease from December 31, and on Australian Idol on the Seven Network and in a gospel music tour in 2024. The Gospel According to Marcia is out now through ABC Music.

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