Photo caption: MAE YA CARTER with her degree from the prestigious Berklee College of Music. (Photo courtesy Facebook)
Mae Ya Carter Ryan, the child prodigy who wowed Chicago with her big contralto voice, last weekend graduated from the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, giving her proud mom one of the best Mother’s Day gifts ever.
It was the latest in a string of achievements for the 21-year-old, who is on her way to Los Angeles to advance her music career with an opportunity she obtained from global firm Universal Music Group.
For now, Ryan can’t believe she is a college graduate after four years of attending the Berklee College of Music. On May 13, Ryan was among 1,150 Berklee graduates to participate in the school’s commencement ceremony, where hip-hop rapper Usher spoke after receiving an honorary degree.
Ryan earned a bachelor’s degree in music, with an emphasis in music business and songwriting. She is the daughter of Ina Carter, a struggling single mother in Bronzeville, who made big sacrifices to fund her child’s college and high school education.
During the commencement ceremony, rapper LL Cool J and record executive L.A. Reid sat among the guests. LL Cool J was there to support his daughter Nina Simone Beautiful Smith, who also graduated from Berklee.
Ina Carter made big sacrifices to help fund her daughter’s college and high school education at the prestigious Interlochen Center for the Arts, a world-renowned boarding school in Interlochen, Michigan, where many children of A-list celebrities attend.
After her high school graduation, Ryan enrolled at Berklee in 2019. She received a full scholarship but still needed money for personal expenses during her college years. Tuition at Berklee is $48,000 per year. While tuition for a four-year degree at Berklee is $187,200, Ryan told the Crusader she graduated “debt free.”
Ryan didn’t have a full scholarship in her freshman year in 2019. She was short by over $20,000 and the school wanted her to take out a student loan. Carter sent a letter, appealing to Berklee to give her daughter more financial aid to pay the remaining portion. When the Crusader contacted Berklee’s financial aid office about Ryan’s financial problem, the school made up the difference.
In 2018, the Crusader published a story that reported Carter spent six weeks in the dark after using her money for her ComEd bill to pay part of her daughter’s $62,000 high school tuition at Interlochen. Carter said singer Jennifer Hudson paid the rest. An anonymous donor read the Crusader story and paid for Ryan’s airline and travel expenses during a college tour that included visits to five colleges in Boston, New York and Philadelphia.
Ryan said because of top grades in her freshman year, she received a full scholarship that covered her entire tuition during her sophomore, junior and senior years at Berklee.
Certainly walking down the aisle a day before Mother’s Day made Ryan’s mother proud.
“I was just overjoyed and I’m still on Cloud 9,” Carter told the Crusader. “I was thinking all the things I had to do to get her where she wanted to be. I didn’t think of getting anything for Mother’s Day. That was my Mother’s Day gift.”
After the commencement ceremony, Ryan met Tiffany Anderson, Usher’s chief of staff. Ryan said after the conversation, Anderson emailed her asking for some of her music material. Ryan said she sent it “right away.”
Before she earned her Berklee degree, Ryan won a songwriting award for “Broken Nation,” a song she wrote. Ryan also won a $2,100 Bill Pierce Dr. Martin Luther King endowment scholarship. This summer, Ryan will travel to Los Angeles to write for two recording artists, who she prefers remain anonymous. Ryan said that opportunity through the Universal Music Group came about after she performed at Berklee’s career jam, which the recording company’s representatives attended.
During the pandemic in 2020, Ryan recorded “Good Job,” a song that praises first responders. Originally recorded by singer Alicia Keys, Ryan’s version of the song is on YouTube. She also recorded a version of Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love Of All,” also available on YouTube.
It’s just one of many blessings Ryan has experienced during her budding music career. At a young age, Ryan has been compared to many vocal legends, including Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughn.
She’s a contralto with the voice of a seasoned professional. Her voice is deep, rich, yet feminine, and supple. New fans are in awe when they hear her high-pitched voice when she speaks after she sings. She sings jazz, R&B, classical, but prefers not to be labeled by any genre.
Ryan has performed at numerous concerts and venues, including WGN, CBS 2 Chicago, WCIU, the Chicago Theatre, the Pritzker Pavilion at Millennium Park, the DuSable Black History Museum and Education Center, and the Bud Billiken Parade. In 2015, she performed at the 75th Anniversary Gala of the Chicago Crusader at the Loews Chicago Hotel in River North.
When she was 12, Ryan also performed at New York’s famed Lincoln Center, where she opened for the Jacksons in an event honoring Berry Gordy, Jr. She has also performed at galas hosted by NBA star Dwyane Wade and rapper Common. In 2016, Susan L. Taylor, former editor-in-chief of Essence Magazine invited her to New York to perform at her birthday party.