By the time she dropped her major-label debut album, “Heard It in a Past Life” in January, Maggie Rogers already seemed like a bona fide rock star, having earned plaudits from Vogue, Billboard, Pitchfork, and, notably, Pharrell Williams.
Here’s how the genre-defying songstress—who attended St. Andrew’s School near Middletown—got here:
Margaret Debay Rogers is born to a nurse and Ford dealer in Easton, Maryland, and grows up along the banks of the Miles River. By seven, she learns to play the harp, and by middle school can handle a piano and guitar. By 13, she composes her own songs—influenced in part by the Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill and Alanis Morissette records her mom plays around the house.
Rogers begins attending St. Andrew’s School, where she explores more folk and banjo music. The summer after her junior year, she attends a Berklee College of Music program and wins the program’s songwriting contest.
After transforming a broom closet into a makeshift studio, 17-year-old Rogers records and self-releases “The Echo,” her first album. The demos—which include future hit single, “Alaska,” become part of her successful application to New York University’s Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music.
Records and self-releases a folk album titled “Blood Ballet” during her sophomore year at NYU.
The big break. In March, hip-hop icon Pharrell Williams—a NYU artist-in-residence at the time—visits Rogers’ music-production class to critique students’ work. In a video moment that quickly went viral—Rogers plays a demo of “Alaska” for Williams. In the 10-minute clip, Williams listens to the track in astonishment. His face contorts with surprise, wonder, and ultimately, approval. “I’ve never heard anyone like you before,” he tells Rogers. “That’s a drug for me.” The clip gains millions of views and essentially launches a bidding war for Rogers between record labels.
Rogers signs to Capitol and an EP, “Now That the Light Is Fading,” appears in February. That summer, she rocks Delmarva once again with a nine-song set at the Firefly Music Festival in Dover, covering both Neil Young and the Spice Girls. She’s also profiled by The New Yorker, which ruminates: “Her voice contains bits of Joni Mitchell—a kind of gasping delicacy—though it can also recall the wounded falsetto of Smokey Robinson.”
The singles “Fallingwater,” “Give a Little,” and “Light On” serve as harbingers for “Heard it in a Past Life,” released on January 18. “Light On” displaces Mumford & Sons’ “Guiding Light” at the top of the year’s first Billboard adult alternative songs chart. Rogers also performs at Coachella in April.