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Hidden challenges: Deaf singer/songwriter Mandy Harvey to share story, music at ETSU

Contributed • Feb 7, 2020 at 3:52 PM

“I thought that once you lost your hearing that was the end, but I was extraordinarily wrong,” says singer/songwriter Mandy Harvey, a Golden Buzzer winner on “America’s Got Talent” who now tours not only performing but also encouraging others to persevere despite differing abilities.

After losing her hearing profoundly and suddenly at age 19, as a music education major at Colorado State, Harvey went through what she calls a “zombie time.”

“I gave up on music,” she tells Jay Ruderman in one of his “All-Inclusive” podcasts. “I didn’t even sing in the shower for a year and a half. It was as if a part of my soul died because music has always been so connected with who I am.”

Her father got her started playing guitar with him again and before long, Harvey’s “zombie period” was over, and she was learning how to sing without hearing herself or the instruments. A decade later, Harvey tours the world performing her original music and presenting her inspirational story of never giving up and continuing to try. She calls these messages “Wisdom for Life.”

From that collection of messages, she will share “Hidden Challenges: Understanding Invisible Disabilities” at East Tennessee State University on Tuesday, Feb. 11, at 7 p.m. in the Millennium Center ballroom as the 2020 Evening of Health, Wellness and the Arts.

This free public program is co-sponsored by the ETSU College of Public Health, Quillen College of Medicine Gold Humanism Society and Mary B. Martin School of the Arts at ETSU. Sign language interpretation will be provided during the event.

“For the last nine years, the innovative Evening of Health, Wellness and the Arts has explored the important interface of our physical health and our creative minds,” says Dr. Randy Wykoff, dean of the College of Public Health. “Performers, especially those who have faced personal and health-related challenges, have a perspective on health and well-being that is truly unique.”

Harvey’s challenges have indeed spurred her to share her insights and experiences, the lows and highs, with others.

“I really wanted to motivate and encourage other people,” says Harvey, who discovered the hearing loss was because of nerve deterioration from Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. “That was always the driving force behind touring. It wasn’t self-glorification or getting any kind of acknowledgement for what I was doing. I just wanted to say that it’s OK to fail and to brush your knees off and stand back up and try again.”

That’s why in 2017, Harvey decided to face the judges of “America’s Got Talent,” singing barefoot to feel the vibrations from the instruments. “I want to make people smile,” she says in the podcast. “I want to show a different side of what a disability looks like and say that there’s a bunch of invisible ones. I want to say that we can lift and encourage people instead of pushing them down. That’s what I want to do with my life.”

AGT Judge Simon Cowell found her music “breathtaking,” and he chose her as his Golden Buzzer for the season.

Harvey’s mission to encourage and educate also includes a 2017 book, “Sensing the Rhythm: Finding My Voice in a World Without Sound.” This is a collection of “life lessons that I have painfully learned and they’re all connected with stories about my life,” she says.

“I am constantly amazed by individuals who can find their path despite significant obstacles,” says Anita DeAngelis, director of Mary B. Martin School of the Arts at ETSU.

Harvey’s talk at the annual Evening of Health, Wellness and the Arts is also part of a weeklong event at ETSU, the second annual Festival of Ideas. The festival provides the opportunity for the exchange of ideas, information and experiences between unique speakers, faculty experts, staff, students, community members and alumni around a central theme. This year’s theme is “Dreams and Discord.”

In addition to Harvey, an array of artists and speakers will share their insights and perform. For information on ETSU’s 2020 Festival of Ideas, visit www.etsu.edu/festival.

For more information on Harvey, visit mandyharveymusic.com.

For more information about the Martin School of the Arts events, visit www.etsu.edu/martin or call 423-439-TKTS (8587).