Macy Gray parlayed an utterly unique voice and an outlandish sense of style into R&B stardom at the turn of the millennium, appealing to audiences of all colors in search of a fresh alternative to mainstream soul. Gray was actually born Natalie McIntyre in Canton, Ohio, and grew up a shy, awkward youngster who was frequently teased about her odd-sounding voice. She studied classical piano for seven years, but also soaked up the music of soul legends like Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, and Aretha Franklin, not to mention old-school hip-hop; at boarding school as a teenager, she was exposed to a variety of white rock & roll as well. She moved to Los Angeles to enroll in USC's screenwriting program, where one day she agreed to write lyrics for a musician friend's original songs. A demo session was scheduled to get the songs on tape, and when the singer failed to show up, Gray -- having adopted the full name of an elderly neighbor in Canton as her creative alias -- wound up singing on the recordings herself, in spite of her distaste for her own voice. One of the songs was never overdubbed with another vocal, and when the tapes started making the rounds of the local music scene, Gray's raspy growl attracted a lot of attention, much to her surprise. She was offered a job singing jazz and pop standards with a band that performed in hotels around Los Angeles, and her continued work as a demo singer created a buzz around the unlikely diva.