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'The Voice': Rayshun LaMarr traces his musical roots to Chapel Hill childhood

Rayshun LaMarr, a native of Chapel Hill currently living in the Washington, D.C. area, auditions on the Feb. 26 premiere of "The Voice" on NBC.
Rayshun LaMarr, a native of Chapel Hill currently living in the Washington, D.C. area, auditions on the Feb. 26 premiere of "The Voice" on NBC. -- (Photo by: Tyler Golden/NBC)

“The Voice” contestant Rayshun LaMarr counts Ft. Washington, Md. as his home base, but the 33-year-old singer was born in Chapel Hill and spent much of his childhood there, so we’re claiming him, too.

In fact, LaMarr credits that Chapel Hill childhood — surrounded by a musical family — as the genesis of his love for music.

“We had a whole family street we grew up on — Purefoy Drive — and I always hung around my family,” LaMarr said in a recent phone interview. “My aunt had a couple of groups she’d sing with, and I would sit around and sing with them all the time.”

It was mostly gospel music at that point, LaMarr said.

“That’s where I pretty much just started loving singing,” he said. “I always knew I had a great passion for music, but once I was around my family and they would sing and I would start singing, I knew that was something I wanted to do.”

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'I just kept believing'

As viewers of "The Voice" premiere already know, LaMarr’s story is an emotional one.

After attending the Duke Ellington School for the Performing Arts, LaMarr did enjoy a career as a musician, even singing backup on tour for Stephanie Mills.

Then five years ago, LaMarr was diagnosed with cancer and nearly died. He underwent chemotherapy treatments that stole his voice, along with hearing in one ear, but he never gave up on his dream.

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LaMarr’s song choice for his audition was Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” picked because it’s the song he listened to in the hospital while recovering, and it gave him strength. He told the coaches that the song gave him “so much hope and energy.”

“When I was in the hospital I just kept believing," he said. "I kept thinking, 'I have to get out of this situation' and then I did, and then I made it on 'The Voice.'

“Coming from that battle, where I was, to making it to ‘The Voice,’ it means that I’m here for a reason,” he said. “I’m here for a purpose. There’s nothing that can stop me. If you believe in whatever it is that you’re here to accomplish and do, then you’re gonna do it.”

LaMarr gives a lot of credit to his family as his biggest support system.

“They’ve always been there, no matter what the situation was, I know I could always depend on them,” he said. “I can say ‘hey I need you’ and they are right there, instantly. Somehow, they will get to me, they will get there.”

His parents, his younger brother Brandon — “my heart and joy and my soul” — and his partner were all at the audition to support him. His grandfather, who he calls "a great inspiration," couldn't attend the audition for health reasons.

LaMarr believes that he survived cancer for a reason.

"So I’m like ‘Wow, I can go from losing my voice, not having a voice for 10 months, not hearing out of my left ear — and to just turn it all around and to be on ‘The Voice,’ it’s a blessing. It’s a blessing, it’s a miracle, it’s amazing. It’s the best thing that I could have even thought about after going through the cancer situation.”

Brooke Cain: 919-829-4579, bcain@newsobserver.com, @warmtv, @brookecain

5 questions with Rayshun LaMarr

Rayshun LaMarr of NBC's "The Voice." Paul Drinkwater/NBC

Q: Is there an artist whose music you’d like to sing on the show?

“I would love to sing anything from Stevie Wonder. Any song! I love that man. Genius.”

Q: You’re on Team Adam. What’s your favorite Adam Levine song?

“I love ‘Sugar’ and I love (starts singing “This Love”) ‘This love has taken its toll on me’ — I love that song!”

Q: Apart from performing and getting picked, what’s your strongest memory from audition day?

“Actually walking out on that stage and taking in the whole experience. The audience, the coaches. Everything hit me at one time. And I was like ‘This is it, this is make-or-break.’ . . . It was a moment I will never forget.”

Q: How do you describe your personality?

“I’m just a big lover, I love everybody and I’m just a big happy person and a crybaby at the same time.”

Q: Have your fans given you your own hashtag yet?