By Emily Harrison Weir
When Michelle Brooks-Thompson loosed her gale-force voice on “Proud Mary” for the 2012 NBC sing-off program The Voice, she brought down the house and amped up her singing career. That star turn led to an EP and a cascade of other prestigious vocal opportunities.
On July 4, the 2006 Mount Holyoke College graduate is slated to sing with the Boston Pops Orchestra as part of that city's holiday celebration.
"Honoring America by singing the national anthem is no small thing," she says.
Brooks-Thompson sang her first public solo at age nine. As a teenager, she was musical director at her local church and founded several gospel choirs. Her vocal abilities have been compared consistently to those of legendary singers including Aretha Franklin and Whitney Houston.
She’s sung just about everywhere, from blowing away the competition at karaoke challenges—once winning despite having laryngitis—to performing the national anthem for the Red Sox at Fenway Park.
But it’s gospel music that’s deep in her soul, and you can hear Brooks-Thompson’s soaring soprano on many gospel recordings as well as in megachurches, on the Christian Broadcasting Network, and at concerts around the country. Her newest gospel single, "When I Think," was highlighted on Soul Train and Positively Gospel, and her first EP will be available in stores nationwide this fall.
Brooks-Thompson came to Mount Holyoke as a pre-med student.
"But I had an epiphany late in my junior year that I wanted to be a singer, not a doctor," she says.
Three women on the music faculty had faith in her and helped her switch majors so late in her college career and still graduate on time.
"They helped craft my voice to diversify my musical ability," she says. "That's why I now have the ability to sing classical, gospel … whatever I want."
At Mount Holyoke, Brooks-Thompson added an academic dimension to her passion for music. She performed in the Glee Club, founded a Five College Gospel Choir, and hosted a series of “gospel explosion” concerts while completing a religion minor and her major in music with a concentration in vocal performance and piano.
She sang “I Believe I Can Fly” at Mount Holyoke’s 2013 convocation and told the cheering crowd, “If you believe it, you can do it. All it takes is that you believe in yourself.” She had listeners on their feet once again after singing at the 2014 convocation.
With her subsequent concerts and releases—including 2014's debut album My Life’s Testimony—the gospel according to Brooks-Thompson is now reaching even more listeners. She'll have an even larger audience if she attains her next goal: performing the national anthem at the Super Bowl.
Related story: Read the Daily Hampshire Gazette's article on Brooks-Thompson.