Two years ago, I quit my cushy finance job, sold my car and other possessions, packed a suitcase and hopped on an overnight flight to Spain. I had just performed an intimate farewell concert the night before with my band, at my favorite bar in Washington DC, surrounded by my closest friends and colleagues. The following morning, one hangover and three coffees later, I ugly cried on my best friend’s shoulder and bid the city I had called home for the past 8 years goodbye.
I grew up in one of those picturesque southern towns outside of Richmond, Virginia, where neighborhood kids played in the street until sundown and Friday night football was the talk of the town. If you were to ask me then, if I thought I’d ever end up here now, I would have told you yes. It became obvious at an early age that I was a bit different… for lack of better words, I didn’t exactly “fit in” with the other neighborhood kids my age.
I was two years old when I jumped off the staircase with my first miniature guitar. Grinning ear-to-ear, I slid across the living room carpet on my knees, emulating the rockers I saw on MTV. Not exactly ready to raise a Rockstar daughter, my sweet, loving, parents decided to sign me up for ballet class. That was a short endeavor to say the least. I decided to go “rogue” at my dance recital by improvising my own dance routine, and when one of the older kids in my troop became annoyed with my antics, she shoved me. Let’s just say that shove ended up in a tutu brawl on stage where I came out the better half. Now that I had been permanently blacklisted from the ballet circuit, the next logical after school activity was karate. Surprisingly, this was a great fit until it became evident I didn’t do so well with authority. And so it began, the birth of a Rockstar.
It was during my years in middle school that I learned a few things about myself. First, that I really wasn’t cool. I had 2 friends. Literally two. The awkward “puberty stage” wasn’t so great for me. I was overweight and shy and struggled to connect with the other kids my age. The other thing I learned was that I had a knack for stringed instruments. I went on to perform concerts for local youth organizations, school functions, and even the neighborhood biker bar at the age of 16. Since literally no one knew who I was, I became known as the “guitar girl” or the “girl with the blue guitar.” In a way, this really made me happy. I enjoyed the newfound attention and began to find comfort in my new identity.
It wasn’t until university that I began to tune into my sexuality. My best friend and I at the time entered a secret relationship. Both having grown up in conservative, religious backgrounds, we knew the repercussions for going public. I had seen plenty of friends and colleagues being shamed and hated for loving someone of the same sex. Unfortunately, my relationship with this girl took a turn for the worse and consequently, I was promptly kicked out of the metaphorical closet.
Stressful events are a fact of life. So, I had my coffee one morning and realized I had a decision to make – was I going to fight or flight? I recalled my ballet boxing match and decided that not only was I going to fight, but I was finally going to be open and honest about my sexuality, and turn this negative experience into a positive by using it as inspiration for my next song.
I tested my new “coming out” song out on a few friends, saved up the money to record it, and submitted it to a nationwide songwriting contest. At the same time, I started targeting my music towards the LGBTQ+ audience and began to identify myself as a Lesbian Folk Artist. In the contest, I ended up earning 8th place. Although I did not take home the grand prize (which was an opening spot for Hanson…yes, that HANSON), the songwriting contest ended up posting the top 10 finishers online, and it was there that a movie director discovered my song, and asked to make it the title track to their full-length feature film.
Seven years later, I have racked up an impressive music resume – not only have I opened for multiple International recording artists including Rita Ora, Meghan Trainor, and most recently Miley Cyrus, but I was able to marry my passion with a cause I am more than proud to support. This June marked my 7th consecutive performance at Capital Pride DC, Washington DC’s gay pride festival, on a mainstage that has allowed me to share my music with audiences of over 250,000 LGBTQ persons & their allies.
Life doesn’t come with guarantees and truth can’t be rehearsed. One day, maybe you’ll find yourself on an airplane traveling to a distant land across the ocean to chase a crazy dream. I’m proud to be a member of IE’s diverse community, enrolled in one of the top PhD programs in the world, and studying my passion all while heading the university’s LGBTQ+ club. In life and in music, harmony is about finding the perfect balance – follow your passion and with some hard work and determination, the rest will fall into place.
Bio: Michelle Raymond is a PhD Candidate at IE Business School with over 7 years of Wealth Management experiences on Wall Street. She is a polished public speaker, social media marketer, and an award-winning international Folk Artist & Entertainer, currently ranked #1 on Spain’s Folk Music Charts. Demonstrated leader and diversity & inclusion activist, Michelle is the recipient of the 2016 McKinsey&Co. LGBT Leadership Award, President of IE’s LGBTQ Club, and 2-year corporate member of the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce Certification Committee.Over 5 years experience serving on U.S. Television Entertainment & Private Higher-Education Boards. Education volunteer in the United States & Ethiopia. 2016 publications include an interview with Financial Times & TEDx Talk presentation, “How to Tune in & Out.”