MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: Today is Friday, November 15th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Megan Basham.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. What happens to a dream deferred? It was C.S. Lewis who said, “You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.”
WORLD Radio’s Myrna Brown has the story of a Georgia woman who never gave up and found a way back to her first love.
SONG: It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me… and I’m feeling good
MYRNA BROWN, REPORTER: Music makes Myrna Clayton feel alive.
SONG: I’m feeling good
CLAYTON: Music penetrates where nothing else can go.
The early years of the petite, honey-blonde’s life were full of church melodies, harmony, and high notes.
CLAYTON: It was a children’s choir. It was called the Sunbeam choir. So yes, I’ve been singing since I was 5.
As a teenager Clayton was introduced to jazz.
CLAYTON: My dad’s album collection had everything from Duke Ellington to Sarah Vaughn to Ella Fitzgerald to Louis Armstrong. Just the whole essence of the depth of music.
While it was a big part of the family’s fabric, music according to Clayton had its place.
CLAYTON: My dad was like music is an avocation, not a vocation. And so when my brother dropped out of college to go out to pursue music, I was like, OK, that’s not my path. I’m not gonna do that. I’m not gonna make my dad mad.
So, Clayton pursued numbers instead of notes. As a business major, she went on to get an MBA. For nearly a decade she called Milwaukee,Wisconsin home and worked in market research.
CLAYTON: The epiphany came to me when I was 29. I don’t want to be 60 wishing that I tried it and I hadn’t.
SONG: HOW GREAT THOU ART
After a failed marriage, she and her young daughter moved back to the space where she first fell in love with music. She also yearned to finally share with her family its true place in her heart.
CLAYTON: My mom was like clueless because she’s been working her whole life and didn’t know anything about entrepreneurship and going after stuff. She was like, what… you need a job.
To pay the bills, Clayton returned to her corporate America roots, but she continued to find ways to use her gift.
CLAYTON: I was always singing at church. Always and didn’t know how to get into the music scene. And then five years later my mom got sick and I became her caregiver.
Not long after, her company downsized and Clayton found her musical niche: inspirational jazz.
CLAYTON: I purposely didn’t want to call it gospel or Christian because gospel is black music. Christian, typically is white music.
While the limitations were frustrating, Clayton says she saw her music as a way to reach an untapped population.
CLAYTON: There were a lot of people that were unchurched and were seeking and wanting to know God. If the church is talking to itself or to its members and not talking to the community, then who’s going out there? I ultimately discovered that’s me.
Clayton says she carried that newfound discovery to local jam sessions and open mics. But it was while at church that she discovered her calling.
CLAYTON: So, the short of a long story, I’m at the altar and I hear very clearly, worldwide ministry in music. And I’m saying to myself, what’s that?
The farthest she had ever been outside of the U.S. was the Carribean. But in 2015 she researched and applied for a spot in a U.S. State Department program. American Music Abroad sponsors American performers on month-long tours to underserved countries around the world. Clayton and her band applied three times before getting the call to audition. Out of 400 bands, the Myrna Clayton Experience was one of the top 10 chosen.
PERFORMANCES AROUND THE WORLD: Introducing Myrna Clayton
CLAYTON: It clicked to me when I was selected, ohh…this is what I’m to do. I’m to be this little light that’s performing abroad on behalf of the U.S. State Department, on behalf of music or on behalf of God because I am an ambassador for the kingdom.
In 2018 Clayton and her band toured all over Eastern Europe sharing their music through public concerts, workshops, and jam sessions. The following year they traveled to Southwest Africa.
CLAYTON PERFORMING: I am a follower of Christ and so with that I can’t do a show without acknowledging…
After performing in nearly a dozen countries around the world, Clayton says she hopes the next assignment takes her to China.
CLAYTON: This has been a journey and there has been a lot of stumbling blocks. But I keep in front of me worldwide ministry because that’s what God spoke to me. God said he’ll bless you more than you can ask or imagine. And I know my imagination is huge.
Reporting for WORLD Radio, I’m Myrna Brown, reporting from Atlanta, Georgia.