Marlana VanHoose says she was humming “Jesus Loves Me” before she could even talk.
VanHoose, 18, was born blind and diagnosed with cerebral palsy when she was 2. But she disregards any ideas of disability and focuses on her upcoming high school graduation as she enjoys a growing base of fans worldwide for shared videos of her preballgame performances.
“I’m a big ol’ senior at Johnson Central High School! Ready to graduate! Six more weeks! Yeah,” said VanHoose, who chuckles as she explains she essentially stopped growing when she was 9.
Recently returned from an appearance in New York to sing the national anthem before a National Basketball Association game by the Brooklyn Nets, VanHoose embraces her slice of celebrity.
“I have a small frame and a booming voice,” she said. “When I sing it makes people cry ... tears of joy.”
Her mom, Teresa VanHoose, said her daughter’s health challenges have been substantial, including complications such as osteoporosis, adrenaline deficiency and gastroparesis. The first time she heard her sing, however, she knew she had something the world needed to share.
“She would lay on the kitchen floor in our trailer and sing those songs. I don’t know why she had to lay on her back, but she did,” she said, noting the girl began singing along with a gospel tape made by relatives including her great-grandfather. “I remember when she was 3 ... laying on that floor, and I said ‘People’s got to hear this.’”
The proud mother said she began making contacts in hopes of arranging an opportunity for VanHoose to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” before a UK men’s basketball game, and was proud to accept an invitation from the women’s team to perform before one of its games. The women invited her back three more times after that, and won each time VanHoose sang. Videos from her pregame performances resulted in additional appearances, including the recent trip to New York, as well as before the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway last year. While Marlana enjoys singing the national anthem as well as the state anthem “My Old Kentucky Home,” she says her heart is in gospel music.
“I listen to goofy things on my iPad,” she said, noting an appreciation for everything from techno music to 1950s rock. “I’m in love with gospel music. I’m in love with Jesus.”
Scolding her younger brother, Harley, for adding she sometimes listens to country music, VanHoose said her musical tastes are quite broad.
“I like ’70s, ’80s, ’90s stuff, and those other channels when mommy gets out,” she said, confessing she also enjoys Broadway-style musical numbers. “I listen to ’50s stuff. I don’t like people cussing in music — that’s why I like the ’50s stuff. It’s just solid rock.”
As she anticipates her high school graduation, VanHoose said she hopes to someday work as a voice-over artist for animated features, citing her appreciation of the Japanese cartoon “Vocaloid,” depicting a singing voice synthesizer. She also wants to assemble a group of like-minded Christian singers to spread the gospel message.
“I want to go around the world and sing for the Lord — maybe even assemble a dream team,” she said, noting she wants to organize a group of singers with vastly different styles and influences, laughing as she added, “But, not Mom. She can’t sing. She’s a Christian, but she can’t sing.”
David VanHoose said he believes his little girl’s voice stands out from the crowd.
“She sings with such emotion,” he said. “You can listen to the biggest singers in the world and they can’t touch her.”
To learn more about VanHoose and her musical ambitions, visit littlemarlana.com, where fans can also order her CD “Do Right.”
TIM PRESTON can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.