By David Perry
Call it fate.
Andrew Marshall was 16 seconds into a cover of his idol John Mayer’s “Gravity” when Nick Jonas slapped a red buzzer and flipped around to watch Marshall, assuring the 21-year-old River Hawk’s place as a contestant on “The Voice.”
Though 7.4 million viewers saw Jonas hit the button, Marshall, a music business
major, had settled into the song, eyes closed.
“It was crazy,” says Marshall, 21, by phone from home, just days after the program aired but a few months after it was taped in Los Angeles. “I was in the zone. I didn’t open my eyes until (Jonas) was in mid-turn with his chair. … I basically forgot how to play guitar at one point. And then I thought, ‘Let’s see if I can get someone else to turn.’”
“The Voice,” in its 10th year and 20th season on NBC, is a hit show featuring unsigned talent competing for $100,000 and a recording contract with Universal Music Group. Four celebrity coaches form teams from contestants, choosing them during blind auditions, while facing away from the performer. To choose a singer for their team, as Jonas did Marshall, a coach hits a buzzer, flipping their chair around to view the performance. If more than one coach turns, the contestant gets to pick one. Contestants compete with one another and a winner is ultimately chosen through viewer voting. Coaches this season are Jonas, Blake Shelton, Kelly Clarkson and John Legend.
Keeping His Voice Quiet
Keeping his “Voice” quiet about his involvement, per show rules, wasn’t easy.
“I think the fact we were doing virtual school was helpful,” says Marshall. “If I was chilling around Durgin Hall, it would’ve been be harder to keep it to myself.”
There was a time when Marshall could only close his eyes and dream of playing guitar. At his weakest in his battle with leukemia, which began when he was 16 and a student at Masconomet Regional High School in his native Boxford, Massachusetts, he could barely strum a chord.
Where it all goes from here is up to judges, vocal battles with fellow contestants and, eventually, public voting. His fate will play out as the show unfolds during the season.
Marshall, a senior, credits UMass Lowell’s music business program with offering the tools to refine and round out his natural talent, paving his path to the big stage.
His best friend and fellow River Hawk, Mikey Gergely, calls Marshall “the total package” – as a guitar player, a singer (“Voice” coaches loved his “tone”), and an onstage presence. And most importantly, as a person.
Marshall is “driven to create good music not only for himself, but also to give other people strength and stuff to identify with,” says Gergely, a math
“Andrew is motivated to achieve, but does so without giving off the air of competing for a spot — somewhat ironic given the structure of ‘The Voice.’ The qualities that will serve him best through this experience are that he truly knows who he is, knows what his values are and what he wants to accomplish for himself and for those around him,” Williams says.
Marshall chose UMass Lowell because of its diverse music programs and the community he sensed while visiting. He also heard great things about the school from his older sister, Olivia ’17, who earned her nursing
“I loved that Lowell’s program included both contemporary and classical music. Not a lot of schools offer both. It turned out to be the best decision ever,” he says.
Marshall joined the UML vocal group Hawkapella
his freshman year and, though he later left to concentrate on his solo work, he remains tight with people he harmonized with.
He also joined UML’s chapter of the Music and Entertainment Industry Students Association (MEISA) and is its current president. The annual Mothers of Rock benefit for Girls Inc. of Lowell provided Marshall’s favorite moment as a River Hawk – taking the stage with buddy Gergely to belt Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream.”
Amy Liss, senior associate director of Multicultural Affairs and advisor to both Hawkapella and MEISA, says Marshall is a special individual.
“Beyond his musical talent, he carries a certain wisdom from his life experience and a passion that is infectious to others. His authenticity of character is reflected in his art, and vice versa,” Liss says.
Before “The Voice,” Marshall’s largest audience was “a couple thousand people,” opening for Eagles tribute band Dark Desert Eagles at Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom. “Other than that, it was weddings, smaller things like that.”
He’s released a pair of extended play recordings, “Letters From Lowell” (2018) and last summer’s “Growing Pains.” A producer from “The Voice” reached out last year after seeing Marshall’s Instagram account.
“The hashtag is a powerful thing,” says Marshall. “Before I knew it, I was in LA.”
As far as his music style, Marshall says his “intimate” songs fit well in a coffeehouse setting. He’s gained confidence in his songwriting, dug deeper for lyrics and lifted a self-imposed ban on writing about his cancer, which is in remission.
“I’m a storyteller, I guess. Raw, empathic, vulnerable. I’m happy sitting in a coffeeshop singing to 20 people. If you’re there, I want to sing to you,” he says.
Finding Strength Through Music
He learned from the cancer, diagnosed when he was 16. One day at school, a friend told him, “Dude, your eyes are yellow.”
He headed for Massachusetts General Hospital, where his mom is a nurse. Doctors tested him for two days and couldn’t find the problem.
“I didn’t even feel sick,” he says.
He was about to head home, but one doctor insisted on trying one more test. “That doctor saved my life,” says Marshall.
Three years of treatments followed, often sapping his strength. John Mayer was there to help.
“At my worst, I made his songs an integral part of my life. I would sit in the hospital and listen to him day and night. The lyrics helped me understand a lot of things about myself,” he says.
Gergely admires his friend’s strength.
“Andrew never let his struggle define his attitude or experience. He's obviously been through so much, but he's always been a hopeful person. His faith, along with his personal, mental and physical strength, are inspiring,” Gergely says.
Williams says Marshall arrived with talent, “but he has really taken advantage of all we have to offer, and is quick to acknowledge what he has learned from his time here, especially the music business courses that “now have immediate real-world application.”
Marshall almost got a shot on the big stage two years ago, when someone from “American Idol” contacted him, but nothing panned out.
“It was serendipitous,” he says. “I have so much of a better understanding of who I am and what I have to offer. … This was meant to be. I’m at a really good place to show my heart.”
On May 30, 2018, Marshall met Mayer, thanks to a Make-A-Wish request. Marshall burned the first physical copy of his “Letters from Lowell” EP to present his idol. He played a song, and Meyer liked it enough to play along. During their hour together, they worked out an acoustic version of the song.
The name of the song? “Fate.”