Another year of the Christmas Song of the Day ends today. I hope these daily entries have enlightened you and made your holiday season brighter.
My Christmas Song of the Day for December 31 comes from a woman who became nationally famous on June 8, 2021. On that day, a beguiling singer who called herself Nightbirde appeared on America’s Got Talent and sang an abridged version of her composition “It’s OK.” The lyrics summed up a year of trauma and change, punctuated with her declaration, “It’s OK if you’re lost/We’re all a little lost, and it’s all right.” Famous curmudgeon Simon Cowell gave Nightbirde his Golden Buzzer to advance her directly to the live shows. But she had to drop out before continuing; part of her story is a long battle with metastatic breast cancer, and it had returned with a vengeance.
Before she was Nightbirde, she was Jane Marczewski — or, to be more complete, Jane Kristen Marczewski (born December 29, 1990). The second of four children, she grew up in a competitive family; though she dabbled in many things, music captured her fancy from a young age. At age 6, Marczewski wrote her first song, a song about the Three Wise Men and the star in the East for her church’s annual Christmas play. In 2001, she appeared in an American Idol-style talent show in her home town of Zanesville, Ohio. By the time she was a senior in high school, she was a worship leader, singing and playing guitar at Vineyard Grace Fellowship in Newark, Ohio.
Marczewski originally planned to attend Ohio State for college, but, with encouragement from her mother, she instead went far from home, to Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. Once there, she auditioned for the various worship teams on campus, but she wasn’t good enough, or so she claimed in a 2019 interview.
In a classic example of “when one door closes, another one opens,” she began writing songs seriously for the first time. She wrote as a comment on one of her early videos: “Few of my songs are for a church setting, but they all have Christian influences.” In May 2012, she released a three-song EP called Lines, which appears to be Internet-only (no hard copies). That led to her first live performances in clubs in and around Lynchburg.
That December, she teamed with a friend in a duo called Bangs and Beards, which performed the mashup “Bieber It’s Cold Outside” (combining “Baby” by Justin Bieber and “Baby It’s Cold Outside”) at Liberty’s semi-annual coffeehouse show. That same month, she and other friends were recording new music; those sessions were released in April 2013 as Ocean & Sky, a six-song EP that exists as an extremely limited CD in addition to online. (Does anyone reading this have one?)
After graduating from Liberty in 2013, Marczewski stayed in Lynchburg, working as a server at a local eatery as her musical career bloomed. In August 2013, she played her first sold-out gig. In the spring of 2014, she was one of the headliners at Lynchstock, a local music festival. Meanwhile, she continued to write new music; some of those songs are preserved in live performances on YouTube.
From all accounts, she was popular both with audiences and among her fellow Lynchburg musicians. That fall, Lynchburg Living, a local magazine, put her on its cover. Rumors circulated that she was heading to either Nashville or Austin to see if her local stardom could translate nationally. But she was consumed by self-doubt, a feeling that, amidst all the local acclaim, she had lost touch with who she really was. After much prayerful consideration, Marczewski chose to leave Lynchburg and return to Ohio. She gave a “farewell” benefit concert in October 2014 and left, though she would return in April 2015 for one more performance at Lynchstock. Her last new song from this period, “Sunrise of Our Lives,” was included on the digital-only Paste Magazine Lynchstock 2015 Sampler.
By then, a lot had changed. Back in Ohio, she met a musician named Jeremy Claudio, and after a whirlwind romance, they married on July 5, 2015. The two decided to move to Nashville that October, and for a while, she put her musical career on the back burner. One of her older songs appeared in a documentary, Leonard Knight: A Man and His Mountain, late that year, but nothing new was forthcoming. Meanwhile, now known as Jane Claudio, she used her communications degree as a customer service rep for Xerox in Nashville.
In her early years, Marczewski was basically a folk singer with Christian influences, but in Nashville, she began to embrace the pop sounds of the 1980s. When she resumed making music in February 2017, the first released track was “Fly,” which she issued under the name “Jane.”
Before she could do anything else, she received her first diagnosis of Stage 2 breast cancer in September 2017. Months of chemotherapy followed along with a mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. On July 7, 2018, her scans came back, and she was cancer-free. For the next several months, she wrote blog posts, journal entries, and poetry, took a long vacation with her husband, and spent New Year’s Eve in Times Square.
Meanwhile, she came up with her new stage name. As she wrote on her Facebook page in December 2018: “Woke up in the night three times, dreaming of birds singing in the dark. The third time, I went to the window and they were there—singing morning songs at 3 am. I wanted to be one of them—singing as if it was the morning, though I couldn’t see it yet.” Thus Nightbirde was born.
Her first posting under the new name was a reissue of the Jane song “Fly” in February 2019. She then played her first gig in four years, on April 6, 2019. A friend from Liberty University, knowing of her story, contacted her, asking her to be the opening act for Grammy-winning singer Tori Kelly at the Vines Center on campus. She wrote a new song, “Heartbeat,” for the event, and enthralled the audience for about 45 minutes. She had come full circle.
Nightbirde’s first real single, “Girl in a Bubble,” followed. It received some alt-rock airplay, and she posted enthusiastically when the song reached 50,000 streams. She even shot a music video and made a separate live video at the now-defunct Speakertree Records in Lynchburg. She also began to get gigs in Nashville, and in December 2019, she played three nights at a Christmas festival in Coventry, England. Things seemed to be going well.
But on New Year’s Eve of 2019, Nightbirde found out that the cancer had returned. Tumors were all over her body, and she was given three to six months to live. To add to her pain, her husband decided he’d had enough, and in February 2020, she announced her marriage was ending. (The divorce became final several months later, and offstage, she reverted to her birth surname of Marczewski.) She relocated to Los Angeles, where she underwent experimental treatments for her cancer. She outlived her prognosis, and once again, in the late spring of 2020, her scans came back cancer-free.
In the meantime, Nightbirde recorded the original, dance-pop version of her song “It’s OK,” which came out in August 2020. She also briefly returned to Nashville to record a live piano-ballad version of the song, which served as the basis of her AGT audition; this was posted in January 2021.
Alas, Nightbirde announced in late January 2021 that, after the hard year she’d had in 2020, her cancer had returned for the third time. She was still dealing with it when her AGT audition was taped in April, and she still felt reasonably good when it aired in June, but when her health took a turn for the worse later in the summer, she chose to drop out of the competition. Despite premature reports around the Internet that she has died, fortunately she is still with us — struggling to be sure, but still hopeful of long-term survival. (See update below.)
I hope at some point that as much of her music as possible, old and new, can be compiled in physical form rather than willy-nilly across various web locations. More importantly, I hope she lives long and prospers.
Before her AGT appearance, Nightbirde recorded another new song, “New Year’s Eve,” which first appeared on the various music streaming sites on November 26, 2020. Once again, she sings about how hard a year it was, but she wants to celebrate nonetheless: “I want to kiss someone who loves me on New Year’s Eve.” I can relate. It’s my Christmas Song of the Day for December 31. Happy New Year, everyone!
Sad update: Jane Marczewski passed away on February 19, 2022 after battling cancer for four years.