Madison Ryann Ward
“When creating, the goal is to make something that is going to last forever,” Jay-Z says while interviewed for Netflix series,My Next Guest Needs No Introduction With David Letterman. To illustrate Jay’s point, Letterman visits Rick Rubin’s Malibu recording studio, where a female artist is cutting her new single “Mirror.” When Letterman asks the artist about her objective in making music, Madison Ryann Ward replies, “Just to be honest. And to move people in a way that they’ve never been moved before.”
Honesty is an essential ingredient to making timeless music. And for singer-songwriter Madison Ryann Ward, she is well on her way.
Inspired by artists from many different genres, Ward combines bluesy, soulful melodies with folk, rap and gospel influenced lyricism to create a classic sound that remains all her own. A glittering fuse of elements ranging from organs to reggae beats, Ward is creating the kind of music that has the ability to achieve what Jay told Letterman “lasts forever.”
Having grown up in a creative family in the state of Oklahoma, Madison Ryann Ward was exposed to music at a young age which would come to inform her distinct style. Gospel hymnal songs were Madison’s first experience with music, as she listened to her mother play piano in the church choir until age eight. When she was twelve, her father opened a BBQ and blues joint, where she spent her teenage summers waiting tables while the likes of Billie Holiday, Etta James, and Bessie Smith bumped through the restaurant speakers. “We’d be singing back Al Green, Bonnie Raitt, BB King, Bill Withers, Stevie Ray Vaughan, the list goes on and on,” says Madison. “Soul-blues. It wasn’t just blues, it was soul singers as well. That was the narrative from 12 to 17 years old. Every summer I was in there working and listening to all this music. And that, I know now, is where the soul and the blues became a part of me.”
However, music was not always the path Madison Ryann Ward had in mind. Having played sports all her life, excelling in volleyball, basketball, golf and track, she decided to play collegiate volleyball at Oklahoma University and planned to play professionally overseas after graduation.
But when a group of athletes heard her singing Aretha Franklin’s “Chain Of Fools” in the cafeteria and posted a clip on Twitter, the video went viral after being picked up by WorldStarHipHop. The response Madison Ryann Ward received prompted her to consider a shift towards making music professionally, “That split the road for me,” she says.
Her brother encouraged her to start a weekly cover series called “Ward Wednesdays,” which quickly garnered a following thanks to her unique renditions of diverse song selections, ranging from classics like Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine,” to modern alt/indie picks like Kwabs’ “Cheating On Me,” and even some more spiritual content, like her brilliantly arranged mash-up of Anthony Hamilton’s “Can’t Let Go” and Hillsong United’s’ “Even When It Hurts (Praise Song)” with help from Australian based keys player David Taafua.
The common through line? The undeniable depth of Madison Ryann Ward’s vocal performance.
“It’s wild,” says Madison. “Even though I grew up doing all these different sports pursuing being an athlete, when I was little on the ‘what do you want to be when you grow older’ papers, I would always write singer. But I never pursued it. I wasn’t in choir or taking lessons. Every once in a while, I’d do the talent show, but then it was back to sports. It was never my goal to be in the spotlight that way because being an athlete was my stage. It was just naturally evolving, and people were curious.”
That curiosity led Ward to explore her relationship with music more intentionally. She took songwriting trips to Nashville, eventually moving there for a year before splitting her time between the studio in New York and LA, followed by a label deal with legendary producer Rick Rubin.
While on a trip to New York, Madison wrote the melody to “Mirror,” a song that would become her breakout single. The idea came to her while at a taping of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, where she watched her friend James Poyser play in the show’s band, The Roots. Eager to work out the chords for the melody that floated around in her head, she ducked in a Guitar Center in Times Square to find a keyboard and record a voice note on her phone that same night.
She then worked out the lyrics with writer/producer Rex Rideout back in LA, where they recorded a demo and later finished the recording with Rubin in Malibu. “You took my heart and gave it a home,”sings Madison Ryann Ward in “Mirror’s” opening line. “Sometimes it’s hard to see that some things just won’t be,”the song ends.
“It makes me emotional,” she says, “because I’ve seen people close to me go through the difficulties of love and loss. It’s more of a testament to what isn’t anymore and what could have been, for anyone. But that’s just life.”
It’s clear that Madison Ryann Ward’s musical style, writing, and vocal identity carry the weight of music’s greats. That especially comes across on her debut EP, Beyond Me. After racking up 4 million Spotify streams on “Mirror” and receiving acclaim from Billboard, Refinery29, Women’s Health, Music Connectionand more, she crafted the four-song project throughout 2019. The lead single, “BRKN,” pairs sparse, sultry, and smoky production with gospel-size runs. The singer’s vulnerable storytelling takes center stage amidst the vocal fireworks. Recounting the end of a relationship, she heartbreakingly intones, “You may not love me now, but at least you loved me then.” Elsewhere, she delivers moments of unexpected and undeniable spoken word on “The Key” and unlocks raw emotion on “Other Side.” Beyond Me sees her reach a new level as a lyricist and vocalist.
As always, the true brilliance is that her intention is to be real and to make music from a place of authenticity.
“I’m still in discovery mode. And I hope I am always in discovery mode,” says Madison Ryann Ward. “I’m just going to be honest and see what happens.”