Rachel Grace was born in upstate Warsaw, N.Y., a town she claims had “600 people, 500 teeth, and more cows than human beings.” A Christmas baby, Rachel is the oldest of four siblings — Jose, Nick (also a musician) and Angel, who incidentally is also a Christmas baby. I mean, what are the odds?
“We were gypsies,” she says of her childhood. “Migrant workers. We moved 14 times in upstate New York when I was a kid. I went to 12 schools.”
Her father currently lives in a retirement building in Puerto Rico, where Rachel describes him as “a gigolo, but super cool. He has five girlfriends there. He wears pimp clothes and yellow sunglasses.”
Her interest in music began early. “I learned to read music in the fourth grade,” she recounts. “In the 10th grade I played clarinet in the band at school. Then, in the 11th grade, I started partying and it was all over.”
Well, not completely. She got a scholarship to Syracuse University, studying Communications. “I got my B.S. in B.S.,” she jokes. “I wanted to be a lawyer, but I ended up choosing the life of a dirty hippie instead.”
Rachel says she learned to play guitar in 1998. “I was madly in love with a man ten years older than me who wanted to learn to play guitar, so I bought him a used one from a classmate. Before his birthday, he dumped me and out of spite, I kept the guitar and learned how to play it. I found out I had a decent singing voice, too.”
In August 1999, she and her friend Jessica hitchhiked to Key West. “Jessica said, ‘I’m hitchhiking to Key West, do you wanna come?’ I said ‘OK.’ We were so naive. Looking back, it was so dangerous. We rode with two guys who were on the lam for a double murder in a stolen car. We should be dead.”
Her first gig in Key West was at the infamous but now defunct Rumrunners. “That was before you had to have a license to play on the street,” she said. “We made good money busking. When you’re a cute little 20-something, they just throw money at you.”
Rachel finds pride in the fact that around 2002, she was the original office manager of the Bahama Village Music Program, an organization that has blossomed into what is arguably the best music program for children on the island.
Rachel was married in 2004 and has two Conch kids, Ryan, 13, and Raquel, 11. “I quit playing music to take care of them,” she says. “My ex-husband, Ray, worked his ass off to provide for us.” Even though they’re not together anymore, they remain on good terms for the sake of the children. “They’re well-rounded, sweet kids,” she boasts. “It’s a testament to having a great post-divorce relationship. Our kids still think we adore each other.” Wise words and a sound parenting philosophy.
Rachel is active at her church, Unity of the Keys, playing and singing, and teaches at the May Sands Montessori School, blending her two passions at both locations — her love of music with her affinity for children. “Five years ago while divorcing I was thinking, ‘What the f— am I going to do now?’ So I dove back into music. Music and kids, my two favorite things. I’m involved with summer camps for kids and theater camp where they write their own songs and write their own scripts. It’s intense, amazing, magical.”
Rachel performed a special show at Blue Heaven on Jan. 1, but you can find her every Wednesday night at the Salty Angler on Duval Street from 7 to 10 p.m. “And at Unity of the Keys every Sunday at 11 a.m.,” she’s quick to remind me.
Rachel has a 12-track CD about to wrap, “Right Kind of Complicated,” recorded by Key West’s iconic producer Ian Shaw at his Warm Fuzz Studio. It features Key West musicians Randy Morrow, Keith Snyder, Ericson Holt, Rick Fusco, Mike Lenz, Bob Moffler and visiting guitar virtuoso Matt Backer from England. “Hopefully it’ll drop before 2029,” she jokes. To keep up with her progress, follow her at Rachel Grace Music on Facebook.
When she’s not working or playing, her favorite pastime is — not surprisingly — hanging out with her kids. “We play Wii sports. We look at memes together. We do gallery walks where we pretend to be art snobs. And we love traveling. We once went on a three-week road trip to Colorado, just the three of us.” Must be that gypsy in her blood. “And I also like bossing my boyfriend Ben around.”
Ben Solove is a Key West DJ and an avid local music fan. “It’s good that I’m with Ben. He pushed me to get back into music. He knows a lot of people, and he’s my biggest fan. It’s beneficial I’m sleeping with him.”
The best thing about living and working in Key West? “Well, I bypassed being a lawyer and a clarinet player, so everything’s good.” ¦