Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Ray Chew Is Helping To Change Our World

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Be mindful of the past; be respectful of the present and future. This is a key piece of advice that I’ve learned throughout my years and is something that I always tell anyone asking for some wisdom.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ray Chew.

Ray Chew is America’s Musical Director, whose artistic impact has been felt across some of the world’s most recognized landmark specials, television programs and concert events. A figurehead in the music industry whose credits also include producing and composing, Ray shows no signs of slowing down. He’ll return as the Music Director of ABC’s Dancing with the Stars, Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade and the Harlem Music Festival, as well as his very own event, Carnegie Hall’s “A Night of Inspiration,” of which he is co-curator alongside his wife Vivian Scott Chew set for December 10, 2022. Ray’s previous credits include high profile projects including the 65th Primetime Emmy Awards, the Grammy Awards, the 2008 Democratic National Convention, Barack Obama’s Inaugural Neighborhood Ball, NAACP Image Awards, Miss Universe, Miss USA, Miss America and the BET Awards. Ray has also helmed countless live performances during award-winning musical events with the world’s most popular artists, including Pharrell Williams, Aretha Franklin and Carrie Underwood. Ray Chew remains steadfast in his commitment to philanthropy through both the Power 2 Inspire Foundation and fundraising efforts in partnership with the American Federation of Musicians. For more information, visit and

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series, Ray! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit about your “origin story.” Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I grew up in Harlem, and at age seven, we moved up to the Bronx. My mother was a visionary and had me in music study at age five. Every day was music study, music study, music study. I studied piano, percussion and every other instrument that I could get my hands on.

While I was at LaGuardia High School of Music & Art, I got my first opportunity to audition for Melba Moore and that started my professional music career. I left high school to go write on the road at age 16, and the rest is history.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

It was always music from day one. There was no question about my future career path. All my teachers were professionals who were working on TV shows or doing recording sessions. They would take me around to all these different sessions, so I was getting a very hands-on learning experience and being directly ingratiated into the music industry at an early age.

Because of that, I knew what was going to be in store for me career-wise; I knew what it was going to look like, I knew what it was going to feel like. It’s been very gratifying to have the New York arts community watch me grow from this little kid in music who they’d been seeing all along and now I get to do it professionally.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Wow, there are many, many, many stories. But one story that stands out is a Rihanna story.

I was traveling with Rihanna as her music director throughout Europe, and we got a last minute call to fly to London to perform at a big award show there. We got there and went backstage, and right across from us was Michael Jackson, who was about to receive an award. Michael got up, accepted his award and then walked off the stage. The audience was stunned–they thought he was going to perform. As soon as Michael walked off the stage, they lifted the curtain to start Rihanna’s song, and the audience just started booing. It was devastating!

It was very apparent that they weren’t booing Rihanna; they were doing it because they wanted Michael. Nevertheless, there were boos, and she had to start her set facing that reaction from the whole arena. To her credit, Rihanna powered through and turned it around like the star she is. I give her so much credit for that. When we got back to the hotel, I gave her a big hug and said “that was pro.”

There’s another Rihanna story in Oslo, but that’s for another time.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I’m excited to be back in the ballroom as the music director for this year’s Dancing With The Stars. It’s my 14th season as DWTS’ music director, and it’s always a blast writing, recording, producing and mixing the music every week. With the amount of music we put together per episode, it’s almost like we’re making an entire album in six days!

Coming up, I am music directing this year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and in December, my wife Vivian and I will bring back our “Night of Inspiration” concert at Carnegie Hall.

We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share why it’s important to have diversity represented in music, film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?

The whole concept of diversity should, could and does recognize that the world is larger than one race or one culture. The fact is that God sprinkles talent on the entire Earth equally–to every race or culture, however, opportunities are not equal. And so, when you give people an opportunity to demonstrate what they have, it enlarges your whole operation. People should want diversity because it’s beneficial to all, specifically to whoever is providing this “diverse opportunity.” Your company or industry grows and evolves because of diversity. At the least, it’s good business sense.

What are three to five things you wish someone told you when you first started and why?

There are about 25 things right off the top of my head. I’d say the first thing is to never miss the opportunity to shut the f*** up! Sometimes people talk themselves into corners or simply just talk too much. I would tell my younger self to listen a little bit more, because it helps you learn.

The second thing is, while you’re shutting up, learn about the value of compassion for others. Young people often act like they’re bulletproof and can be a little cocky. I’d say to my younger self, “hey, listen, a humble spirit gives you the opportunity to embrace life a little differently–if you can make it to an old age!”

The third thing is just to learn to be more respectful of the older generation. Not that I was never disrespectful to my elders, but it’s important for young people to listen and learn. I feel like the younger generation these days are all about “I’ve got mine” or being self-sufficient. That is excellent, but, by the way, you are standing on the shoulders of giants, your elders, who worked hard to pave the way for you. So I would say to my younger self and younger people these days just to be aware of that in your operations.

Lastly, always travel wearing pants and a light jacket with zip pockets so that when you’re going through security, you can safely put all your important items in the zip pockets and nothing gets left behind. I’ve lost my phone about two times and my wallet three times, but now I just zip everything up.

Do you have any tips to avoid burnout?

When you’re 20 years old, you can run like you’re 20 years old. When you get to 30, you think that you can still run like you’re 20 years old. When you get to 40, you’ll still try to run like you’re 20, but your body knows what age you are. The bottom line is, respect what your actual numbers are and really prepare your mind, body and spirit for aging.

Most importantly, be spiritually grounded. For me, I’ve recognized that God is my source, and I’m never short on anything. He’ll find a way to get me through.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person whom you are grateful toward who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Absolutely. I give tremendous credit to many, but in particular, Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson. They gave me a huge opportunity: my first job with Melba Moore. They discovered me and personally brought me into their circle. I got to see up close how the two most prolific songwriters worked and went on the road with them as their music director at 19. I ended up working with them for 15 to 20 years. They brought me into the session scene, and suddenly, I was in the studio every day recording with all these great artists like Diana Ross, Shaka Khan, Teddy Pendergrass, Gladys Knight and so many more.

Nick and Valerie showed me the ropes of the music industry. They nurtured me, they were patient with me and, overall, they knew there was something special in me. I’ll leave this with you: if someone like that believes in you, that is everything.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Be mindful of the past; be respectful of the present and future. This is a key piece of advice that I’ve learned throughout my years and is something that I always tell anyone asking for some wisdom.

Is there a person in the world, dead or alive, whom you would love to have a private meal with?

I read “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu all the time. His concepts of governance and what a general does are things that I apply in all of my operations, especially how I conduct myself as a leader.

If I had the opportunity to sit with him, I know I would have a lot of questions and a lot to learn from him.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can follow me on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube at @raychewlive

This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!

Thank you!

Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Ray Chew Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.