Someone Famous Came to Our School and You Didn’t Even Know It, Part One

Kamilah Marshall- Broadway actress, Vocalist, and… Taylor Swift’s background singer


Kamilah Marshall

Most of you may not have ever heard the name Kamilah Marshall, but if you’ve ever been to a Taylor Swift Concert, watched Hairspray, or seen this SNL performance,

Live on SNL for Reputation Promo, Taylor Swift middle, Kamilah Marshall directly to her right

then chances are you’ve seen her in action. Through a series of events, I was able to have the opportunity to interview this incredible woman and get to know a little about her and her professional career.

Walking up to the school, Kamilah was on the phone talking with a coffee in hand. After closing the conversation, she turned to greet me with a hug, and struck up a conversation with me and the woman at the front desk while checking in.

We walked up to the Media Center conference room while making small talk. I got her permission to record, and then asked her the simple question “how are you?” She shared that she had gone to bed around 6am the night before because she was writing a speech for her recently deceased mother’s celebration of life. While she called it one of the hardest things she’s ever had to do, she said that she felt “a sense of pride or accomplishment” and that after she opened her heart and mind in the early hours of morning it began to “just [flow] and [happen].

I know I’m supposed to be doing what I do.

— Kamilah Marshall

This wasn’t the only time she mentioned her mother in the interview. When talking about her early experiences in talent shows and such, she talked about how she was “painfully shy” as a child. She always knew that she wanted to do musical theater, but struggled when performing because of nerves. “The music would start and I would kinda be *puts hands up* deer in the headlights and the music would keep playing and then I would start crying and I would have to run off the stage and my mother would just be there [backstage] with her arms open and she would say ‘you don’t have to do this. I’m not making you do this’ and I’d be like *mimics crying voice* ‘no.. I wanna do it’ and through my tears I would get out there and, you know, shakily do the performance.”
Now, she says, she still sometimes has nerves, but has learned to manage them so she can “do what [she] loves to do.” “I know I’m supposed to be doing what I do.”

“WILLIAMSBURG, NY – AUGUST 23: Jeslyn, Eliotte Nicole, Taylor Swift, Melanie Nyema and Kamilah Marshall pose in front of a mural introducing Taylor Swift’s latest album “Lover” on August 23, 2019 in Williamsburg, New York. (Photo by Gotham/GC Images) (GC Images)”

Next, I asked her what the coolest thing she’s ever done is in her opinion. “You know, I’ve been asked this before,” she said. “It’s hard to answer one thing because I think everything I’ve done is cool for different reasons. My first Broadway show was the coolest thing I’d ever done because it was my first Broadway show. My third Broadway show was the coolest thing I’d ever done because it, it was an original cast and I, you know, got to have my name in the script and anytime anyone does Hairspray anywhere it’s my name, you know, which is like really cool.” She added with a laugh “Taylor [Swift], obviously, because that’s just cool.”
Another artist she talked about working with was Sérgio Mendes, a Brazilian musician whose music is mainly in Portuguese. “I don’t know Portuguese,” she laughed. She learned it all phonetically, not knowing the meaning of what she was singing. “I thought to myself, I could be up here singing *pause* we’re all worshiping the devil, like literally I could be up here singing anything with a smile on my face.” Though it was a challenge, she thought it was a cool experience as well.

I could be up here singing anything with a smile on my face.

— Kamilah Marshall

Finally, she added the Lion King “just because it’s the Lion King and costumes are cool.” She did say she hurt herself though. Because of how big the costumes are, they’re hard on the actors’ knees and back and “everybody at some point got hurt.” She was a blade of grass in the musical. “*laughs* I say that to be funny, but there’s a moment in the beginning where all the women are together and the grass is on my head and it’s really cool looking.” She also played a bird lady and hyena.

Switching gears towards her current job, I asked how she got her job singing with Taylor Swift. Kamilah has been with the singer since her Red album, the original release, and got the job from an audition just like most of her other roles. She doesn’t sing on the record releases; she tours with the artist and does live performances, which is why you may have seen her perform on TV for the Grammy’s, SNL, or, if you’re lucky enough, an in person concert. Her favorite song to perform is “Red,” but also said “Bad Blood” is a lot of fun. You can see Kamilah in the All Too Well short film as well, so be sure to check it out.

The group hanging out, Second from left is Kamilah Marshall, Middle is Taylor Swift

When on her own and in her band, there are a variety of influences on her musically. She “listens to all music,” but “gravitates towards old music.” Aretha Franklin and other old soul artists are in there, as well as some newer artists. “Yebba is one of the greatest artists,” she told me. She also listed Anderson Paak and Michael Kiwanuka, who she called “the greatest thing that ever happened to music,” along with Jimi Hendrix, her “overall inspiration.”

I want to make people feel with my music how they make me feel.

— Kamilah Marshall

“People like Michael Kiwanuka I listen to for the sound of their music, the production… I want to make people feel with my music how they make me feel, but I think my inspiration doesn’t really come musically.” “Jimi Hendrix is kind of an inspiration in my life overall and it’s not really just about his music or his guitar playing. It’s about who he is, his spirit, his style… I like people for different reasons, so that question is really hard to answer, you know? ‘Cause I could say Taylor and Adele and Yebba and Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder and… you know what I mean?”

She doesn’t have a favorite song to sing, but she is always listening to music. If she had to listen to a song right then, however, she said she would play the entire NPR Tiny Desk of Yebba, which is inspiring her “in this season.”
There is so much more that I learned from our conversation, but this is all that can make it into this newspaper edition. Be sure to check back next time to read more all about Kamilah Marshall.