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From singing in a Baltimore church to performing around the world with a cappella group Pentatonix

From singing in a Baltimore church to performing around the world with a cappella group Pentatonix
Matthew Sallee, one of the newest members of the Grammy award winning a capella group Pentatonix, grew up in Baltimore. (Handout)

On the last day of their 2017 holiday tour at the Boch Center in Boston, the Grammy award-winning a cappella group Pentatonix officially added a new member to their group.

The crowd applauded and cheered as lead singer Scott Hoying introduced Marylander Matthew Sallee as the new bass singer. Sallee and beatboxer Kevin Olusola opened the group’s rendition of “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow,” with synchronized 90s-style hip hop moves as the crowd cheered them on.

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Throughout the performance, Sallee skillfully held down the bass as the group performed a medley of holiday classics, including “Deck the Halls,” and “Sleigh Ride,” and soulfully delivered the chorus during their performance of “Angels We Have Heard On High.”

In 2011, after winning the NBC a cappella competition show “The Sing Off,” Pentatonix quickly rose to stardom. Over the past seven years, the group has recorded 10 studio albums, won three Grammy awards and accumulated more than 16 million subscribers on their YouTube channel. Additionally, the group has made numerous film and television appearances including The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, “The Today Show,” and “Pitch Perfect 2.”

Soon after bass singer Avi Kaplan left the group before their holiday tour, Pentatonix underwent a worldwide scouting process in search of a replacement.

Four months later, they found Sallee.

Born at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore and raised in La Plata, Sallee said he has been singing for as long as he can remember.

“My dad would have me come up to the piano [at church] and have me sing a song at the end of the service and everyone would be screaming,” said the 24 year-old. “I thought I must be good at this. I think they saw that in me early.”

As the son of a music pastor, the person who oversees the choir and congregational music, he said his father encouraged him to sing and perform at their church, Morning Star Baptist Church of Christ in Baltimore, the church his parents attended growing up and were later married in.

“I was always getting him engaged in what we were doing in church,” said Ernest Sallee. “I [would] give him various singing opportunities as well as opportunities in the dramatic productions.”

Matthew Sallee (left, foreground) performing with Pentatonix.
Matthew Sallee (left, foreground) performing with Pentatonix. (Handout photo)

Ernest, 54, described his son as a happy and upbeat child, which carried into his teenage years.

As a student at Maurice J. McDonough High School in Charles County, Sallee participated in multiple choirs and an all-male contemporary a cappella group, The Ramtations, named for the school mascot.

In addition to his singing, he took on the role of Tony in a school production of the musical, “West Side Story,” after the original lead died unexpectedly.

Sallee’s mother, Tammy Sallee, 53, said that was when she realized her son could make music a career.

“Matt had to step in within a two-week period between him passing, the funeral and the actual show,” she said. “After that first show, I was literally crying. I knew that was probably what he was going to do.”

T.C. O’Brien, 54, who taught Sallee during high school, said she realized he could have a career in music after his freshman year.

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“He is so charismatic on stage and [when] he performs he is in it,” she said. “He is very committed to the whole performance and wants you to enjoy it as much as he is enjoying it.”

During his senior year, Sallee and The Ramtations saw Pentatonix perform at SingStrong, a three-day a cappella competition and festival for high school and college students.

The Ramtations came in second, earning front row seats to a Pentatonix performance.

“It was just incredible,” said Sallee. “I knew all the songs. It was just a fun, crazy experience.”

After high school, Sallee attended Berklee College of Music in Boston and got accepted into the collegiate a cappella group, Pitch Slapped.

During his junior year, the group performed his arrangement of Nick Jonas’ “Jealous” on season 10 of “America’s Got Talent,” putting them through to the judge cuts round.

Christine Smit, 26, a former member of Pitch Slapped, fondly recalled her experience performing on the show.

“We learned a lot and [Matt] is always consistent and wonderful and someone I can get perspective from,” she said. “He is a real talent and he did such a wonderful job doing the arrangement.”

One year after his graduation from Berklee, while working as a wedding singer for the all-male a cappella group The House Jacks, Sallee received an email from a music and vocal producer, informing him of an a cappella group looking for an additional member to join them on tour.

One week after submitting an audio audition, he received a callback asking him to fly from Boston to Los Angeles for an in-person audition for Pentatonix.

“There were eight people [auditioning] other than myself,” said Sallee. The other eight, he said, were selected through a talent scouting process, but he was added at the last minute.

All nine sang, but only four, including Sallee got to sing with Pentatonix.

“I was a bit nervous,” he said. “I wanted to make them feel like they were not going backwards.”

Scott Hoying, 27, said that during the audition, Sallee stood out immediately.

“When he performs he just has this energy about him,” said Hoying. “We instantly fell in love with him and thought he was perfect for the band.”

Three months later, Sallee was asked to move to L.A. to join Pentatonix on their holiday tour. Additionally, he would appear on the NBC holiday special, “A Very Pentatonix Christmas,” and would record two songs, “Deck the Halls” and “How Great Thou Art,” featuring Jennifer Hudson for their holiday album, “A Pentatonix Christmas Deluxe.”

“It was a dream,” he said.

In Boston, on the last day of the holiday tour in December, Sallee learned he had officially become the newest member of Pentatonix.

“I think it had been a long time coming,” he said. “They told me how much they loved me and I do not take anything for granted. I [believe] it was God-ordained.”

Since then, Sallee has appeared on the group's latest cover album, "PTX Presents: Top Pop, Vol. I," their two month long summer tour, PBS' Fourth of July Special, "A Capitol Fourth," The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and the NBC Christmas Special, "A Not So Silent Night."

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Reflecting on this past year in Pentatonix, Sallee said he believes he feels like he is “meant to be here, and it is an insane feeling.”

As a result of his success, Sallee plans to give back to his community. This month, he will lead a workshop for high school choir students in Calvert, Charles and St. Mary’s counties.

He said he hopes he can help encourage and inspire others.

“If you put your mind to something and put your foot on the gas, you can surprise yourself,” he said. “Chase your dreams — you never know what can happen.”

  • Entertainment
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