Biography: Mya

Mya is a dancer turned smooth urban R&B vocalist who released her eponymous debut in the spring of 1998, when she was just 18 years old.

For any performer, earning two platinum albums, a number-one single, and a Grammy Award within the space of three years is an accomplishment. For Mya, who began her string of successes while she was still in her teens, the feat is even more remarkable. Training as a dancer throughout her childhood, Mya did not begin to train as a singer until her father, a musician himself, noticed that his adolescent daughter had a remarkable voice. After high school, a short-lived stint at the University of Maryland gave way to a recording contract, guest vocals on tracks by some of the hottest hip-hop stars of the day, and her debut album, Mya, in 1998. The album eventually went platinum and proved to be a precursor to even greater successes for the young performer. Through it all, Mya projected a down-to-earth image in contrast with some of the other young stars of hip hop. She remarked in an interview with Jeff Lorez of the Launch Music website, "I haven't experienced that much. There are things I'm not ready to share with people, and I don't want to seem phony. How can you talk about boyfriends and relationships on a record, but then every time I hear you in an interview, you're talking about how lonely you are and you're single? I don't want that to be me."

Named after writer Maya Angelou, Mya Marie Harrison was one of three children born to Sherman and Theresa Harrison in Washington, D.C. She grew up in nearby suburban Maryland with her two younger brothers, Chaz and Nijel. Her mother worked as an accountant and her father sang with a number of top-40 bands in the area. Mya took violin lessons throughout her childhood, but dancing was her primary after-school activity. She took ballet lessons from the age of two and added jazz and tap dancing lessons to her schedule two years later. She entered some dance competitions with her brother as a partner, and then joined the Tappers With Attitude troop as a ten-year-old. Her tap dancing skills led to an opportunity to study with one of the best-known tap dancers in the country, Savion Glover of the Dance Theater of Harlem, when he came to Washington for a workshop. Glover later chose Mya for a solo spot in a dance performance at the Kennedy Center.

With an African-American father and a mother of Italian descent, Mya sometimes had to endure insensitive comments about her ethnic background. Her accomplishments as a dancer, however, helped Mya to make the transition into adolescence and deal with the peer pressure that many teenagers experience. As she explained in an appearance on Canada's Much Music television show in January of 2001, "There was a time in my life when I wasn't popular and accepted by kids in school. I was made fun of with braces and kinky hair, and being from a multicultural family, et cetera. ... And it really hurts when you're that age, but later when you get something of your own or you get involved in activities like a sport, you begin to be accepted for what you do, and your personality and who you are, instead of your clothes and how you look and the name designer brands you have on." As a popular performer, Mya would later draw on her experiences to speak to girls' groups as part of the Secret of Self-Esteem program for adolescents, addressing issues such as body image, peer pressure, and gender stereotypes.

While she continued to study dance and appeared on Teen Summit on the Black Entertainment Television network, Mya changed her focus to music as she entered her teens. With the help of her father, she put together a demo tape when she was 15 and began to scout around for a record deal while she was still in high school. After an audition in the living room of University Music Entertainment president Haqq Islam, Mya got herself a management deal which led to a recording contract with University and its major-label affiliate, Interscope Records. Mya finished high school when she was 17 years old and subsequently took a few classes at the University of Maryland in College Park, but the teenager's primary focus was on the recording studio.

Her self-titled debut, released in April of 1998, included songs by Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds, Diane Warren, and Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliot, as well as four compositions coauthored by Mya herself. The first single from Mya, "It's All About Me," went into the pop top 40 in July 1998 and earned a gold record for selling over one million copies. That summer Mya also appeared on the single "Ghetto Supastar (That Is What You Are)" with Pras Michel of the Fugees and Ol' Dirty Bastard. Included on the soundtrack to the film Bullworth, the song earned a Grammy nomination for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group. At the end of the year Mya appeared on another high-profile track, "Take Me There," with BLACKstreet and Mase. The song appeared on the Rugrats soundtrack and was used in a Burger King commercial. When it hit the top ten on the pop charts in early 1999, Mya earned even greater exposure. In addition to her recording duties, Mya appeared on the Smokin' Grooves and Lilith Fair tours in 1998 and 1999. She also took on a small role in the Omar Epps movie In Too Deep, which was released in 1999.

Like Mya, which eventually earned a platinum record for sales of over one million copies, Mya's second album, Fear of Flying, enlisted the help of several notable musicians, including Wyclef Jean, Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes, and reggae star Beenie Man. Released in April of 2000, Fear of Flying benefited from Mya's first major solo hit, "Case of the Ex (Watcha Gonna Do)," which eventually went to number two on the pop charts by the end of the year. Another single, "Free," also hit the top 20 in early 2001 and helped Fear of Flying to earn Mya her second platinum record.

Although many of the tracks on Fear of Flying covered the same romantic themes that were featured on Mya, her second album presented a more mature perspective, as Mya explained in an interview for "There's nothing wrong with being a female and wanting to be sexual or physical, that's perfectly normal," she told the channel. "But the things [sic] that we have to deal with after the fact is stuff we should really sometimes think about before we let it all happen." Demonstrating some naiveté, however, Mya insisted that the title of the album had nothing to do with Erica Jong's 1973 erotic novel of the same name.

In June of 2001 Mya released a remake of the Patti LaBelle song "Lady Marmalade" with Christina Aguilera, Pink, Lil' Kim, and Missy Elliot. Included on the soundtrack to Moulin Rouge, the song gained the number one spot on the pop charts in June of 2001 and earned the artists a Grammy Award for Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals at the ceremony in February of 2002. The video for the track also created a stir for the performers' provocative outfits, which played off the movie's setting in a bordello. In addition to planning her next album, Mya also accepted a role in the movie version of the musical Chicago.

Moodring (2003) and the oft-delayed Liberation (2007) followed.