Stephanie Anne Johnson is on fire, and it’s her voice–as well as her heart–that will put her on the map.
First, the voice. When Johnson sings, you’re going to hear nothing you’ve ever heard before. When she was on 2013’s season of “The Voice,” she started on Christina Aguilera’s team, and was saved by her second coach, CeeLo Green, because he loved her unique style and found her “remarkably talented.”
To think, it was a voice that almost didn’t get shared with an audience.
Johnson was given her first tape player at the age of eight, and remembers coming home from school and singing all afternoon in her room with the doors and windows closed so no one would hear her.
“My brother heard my singing, and told my mom that she should get me voice lessons,” she recalls. “The first time I sang in public was at a coffee shop. I was 15, and felt awkward and didn’t know what to do with myself. I remember being really scared. My heart was beating really fast in my ears. I was scared people would look at me.”
She developed comfort in front of a crowd while attending school at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington. “I learned how to relax on stage because I knew what to do,” she says. “There wasn’t a time I was like, ‘how do I do this?’”
Then came practice involving another muscle: the heart.
The Heart of the Matter–Girl Scouts and Beyond
After college, Johnson took a job as a staffer and troop leader at Girl Scouts of Western Washington. She led five troops each week, working with girls on everything from self-esteem to bettering their communities.
“Girl Scouts gives hope to girls,” Johnson says, “and helps them learn skills they might not otherwise learn elsewhere.”
Johnson knows the impact of the Girl Scout experience best as her days as a Girl Scout Daisy and Brownie. She went camping, sold cookies and earned the self-esteem badge, but says the experience was most profound because it provided a place for her to be around other girls and not feel some of the judgment you get at school.
“My family is biracial,” she says. “My mom is black and married someone who is white. So it was always awkward for me to be walking around with a different kind of family than everyone else had. At my Girl Scout troop meetings, there was always a sense that we were all doing something together, and it didn’t matter who looked like what.
“And at Girl Scout camp, there were a lot of girls from different backgrounds. It was nice to be in an environment that embraced diversity … We learned about honesty and integrity, and things that aren’t taught in school. You take on bigger challenges and have a wider skill set while still being you at the core.”
She incorporated those life lessons into her day job at Girl Scouts, eventually branching out into other worthy service jobs, including one as an AmeriCorps volunteer, where she served at the Al Davies Boys and Girls Club in Tacoma. Though she later left service work to pursue her music full-time, her role as a change agent is not something she’ll ever leave behind.
“I love my music, but I feel strongly about the future of our kids and our education system,” Johnson says. “The responsibility of being a good steward is not something I take lightly. I’d like to be a lightning rod for issues surrounding people who don’t have a voice. Women and girls, the homeless, the LGBT community … I like to think of myself as a work-in-progress. If I’m not the best at living up to everything I hold dear, I hope that I will continue to grow into that person.”
Advice to Girls Who Want a Career in Music:
“Keep in mind that you’re always a work in progress. That helps when you’re an artist.
If you want to be involved in the music industry, it would behoove you to find someone in the industry who is actively doing what you want to be doing and try to start a dialogue with them. For some people that might mean sending a letter to Christina Aguilera, but for other people it might be finding other girls in your town who play guitar and sing.
Anybody going to school for music needs a business class. Being a working musician is a lot like having your own business. I’m not only selling myself, I’m also selling CDs and T-shirts, and I have to have a stock of these things.
You’re also going to need a goal. Research someone who is doing something you like. Where did they go to school? Who did they study with? Then go study with those people.
Looking to the Future
Now that she’s no longer on TV, Johnson is back home in Washington, working on her next album and playing shows. She’s not waiting around for Hollywood to call, but she’s not stopping what she loves, either. Johnson recognizes the gifts she has to share with the world, and has no plans to stop sharing.
“A lot of people wait around for validation and for the world to tell them they’re doing the right thing, but that’s something you have to tell yourself,” she advises. “You’ve got to be gentle with yourself and remind yourself you did a good job.
“I have been blessed to have my mother and grandmother for great support in my life. I have wonderful friends and teachers. I just want to say thank you to the universe. I feel supported by the people who listen to my music.”