Mary English, a singer, sat next to a drummer in one of her classes, and it got her thinking. So, she made a Facebook post about starting a band. More than a year later, Mary English & Devine Street is making a name for itself in the Columbia music scene.
Mary English is a third-year marketing and management student from Charlotte, North Carolina. She began singing at a very young age and has traveled across the country to work on her singing and acting.
“I did a lot of plays in school,” English said. “I think that really got me started.”
Once she graduated from high school, English took a gap year and moved to Los Angeles to work on her music.
After coming to USC, the idea of starting a band began to manifest. She posted in the USC Class of 2020 Facebook page in search of bandmates. Pierce Edge, a friend from her accounting class, was already on board as drummer.
Cooper McGee, a third-year journalism student, responded to English’s post.
McGee now plays rhythm guitar in the group. The two musicians met up for coffee to discuss the band's future plans, including their need for a bass player. McGee knew a student from his University 101 class, Court Russo, who played bass. Russo, a third-year business student, quickly joined the group as its bassist.
When they were in need of a guitar player, McGee and Russo also had someone in mind. Their former U101 professor, Jay Pou, who is also a USC staff member in the history department, had played with them a few times and they asked him to sit in on band’s practice.
“I think it was after about three songs that we all looked around and were kinda like, ok, this is clicking really well,” Pou said in an email. “I didn’t expect to catch on with a band so much younger than me, but the fit was perfect.”
The group is Columbia-grown. The bandmates had their first full-band meeting at the Cantina 76 restaurant on Devine Street, and they decided on their name last fall after playing a show on Greene Street during homecoming week.
With an official identity the band was ready to take on the music world. They've now been playing together since January 2018 and are planning for a year of local gigs.
But finding the balance between student and professional life and practicing music can be difficult.
“At first it was tough for me to balance school and the band because in Spring 2018 ... I was taking some graphic design classes that were late,” McGee said in an email. “It was tough to find time to practice and study, but the last two semesters has been much better.”
For Pou, teaching, the office and his music all battle for his time. Luckily, he has found ways in which his commitments overlap.
“Education and music are two of my greatest passions in life, so even though they take a lot of time and effort, I also draw great strength from them,” Pou said. “I take my guitar to U101 and teach my students how to sing the alma mater and maybe a Darius Rucker song or two."
English uses music to keep a healthy balance between work and life.
“I feel like it’s my kind of getaway,” English said. “I don’t look at it as being stressful.”
Even with busy schedules and different interests, McGee said the bandmates have "become best friends over the course of the last year."
The band mostly performs covers, but they are looking to start working on some originals soon.
“We really want to write as a group,” English said. “We're excited.”
Mary English & Devine Street have played a few Soda City Pop Ups and are looking to expand the band's presence in Columbia. The group headlined at The White Mule on Feb. 28 and will participate in The Senate’s Battle of the Bands.