One is the leader of a budding indie rock band. The other is touring with a hit musical. Two — who happen to be sisters — have ascended to the elite levels of contemporary and hip-hop dance, and they’re among a number of notable creatives who got their start in Howard County.
We’ve asked these arts and entertainment figures how their experiences growing up here helped to shape their careers.
Lindsey Jordan, 18
Snail Mail guitarist and singer-songwriter
Before Lindsey Jordan started touring with Snail Mail, her three-piece indie rock band, she was playing guitar in Mt. Hebron High School’s production of “Godspell.”
It’s one of the experiences the 2017 graduate cherishes from her Howard County music education.
“Every single thing I did benefited my development as a musician,” she says from her Ellicott City home, while preparing to hit the road for a series of appearances that include the famed South by Southwest festivals.
Jordan was still a high school senior when the band’s song “Thinning” was named best new track by the popular music site Pitchfork. But she also honed her musical acumen in Patapsco Middle School’s jazz band.
“There is so much to learn in music,” she says. “I liked working under my instructors and teachers. Every single teacher and setting are different. Having a learning curve in any way — learning to play with a group or performing in front of others — those are all skills I was able to channel into what I do now.”
Actor in the North American tour of “Les Miserables”
A production of “West Side Story” at Centennial High School brought a sense of normalcy to the burgeoning actor who now performs as Javert in the North American tour of “Les Miserables.”
“I finally felt calm and focused,” says Josh Davis, a 1993 graduate. “I had ADHD. I was definitely bouncing off the wall and had a problem focusing. Something about being on stage and having that light shining on me gave me focus.”
Davis, who previous performed on Broadway in the Tony- and Grammy award-winning “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical,” says he struggled with confidence growing up. It was his experiences auditioning for acting roles that helped him build his confidence.
“I was a very intimidated person when I was younger. It was through failure that I learned to be more confident in myself,” he says. “It was a hard lesson for me to learn. Failure is a hard thing to constantly deal with.”
Contemporary dancer Alicia Graf Mack — who performed with the prestigious Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater — credits the academic rigors of the Centennial High School humanities program with preparing her for life.
“I was trained to be disciplined. All of my teachers were exceptional,” says Graf Mack, now a visiting assistant professor of modern dance technique at Webster University in St. Louis and an adjunct dance professor at the University of Houston. “They allowed me to be passionate and excited. The holistic approach to education helped me with my dance career to see the bigger picture.”
Graf Mack went on to get a bachelor’s degree at Columbia University, but Centennial still stands out to the 1997 graduate.
Some of her biggest accomplishments, though, have been in hip-hop. She’s booked dance gigs with the likes of Beyonce, Rihanna, Diddy and Ariana Grande. She’s also appeared on various commercials, the MTV Video Music Awards, the “Step Up” series and the 2014 film “Annie.”
Graf recently moved to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career, and is in the midst of auditioning for a number of pilots.
Danielle DiFerdinando, 31
Handbag and jewelry designer
Known for her Disney-inspired handbags, Danielle DiFerdinando was named to Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list in 2015. The 2005 graduate of River Hill High School attributes a substantial amount of that success to two specific teachers.
“They motivated and pushed me,” DiFerdinando says. “They were a big support. And they still are.”
Zanouba Stevens, who was DiFerdinando’s introduction to fashion teacher her senior year, taught her how to sew.
“I used to go to her house on the weekends and practice sewing techniques,” says the New York City-based handbag and jewelry designer.
Teresa Waters was the head of Diferdinando’s Future Business Leaders of America club as well as her business strategy teacher at River Hill.
“She was inspiring. She was always so business oriented. She had such a good business mindset,” she said.
DiFerdinando fondly remembers a challenge in Waters’ class when students were tasked with selling Under Armour T-shirts. How did DiFerdinando do?
“You know I don’t lose,” she says with a laugh.
Ones to watch
Several Howard County natives will be making waves on the big and small screens in the coming months.
The Oakland Mills High School alum and creator of “The Boondocks” and “Black Jesus” will head a new drama series called “Black America” with co-creator Will Packer. The show is being produced with Amazon Studios.
The Academy Award-nominated grandchild of Columbia founder James W. Rouse is currently the voice of Rex in Wes Anderson’s stop-motion animated film “Isle of Dogs,” which had its U.S. premiere in March. Next, Norton is directing and starring in 1950s New York crime drama “Motherless Brooklyn,” which is scheduled for a 2019 release.
The Baltimore School for the Arts grad who was raised in Columbia has appeared in shows such as “The Following” and “Grey’s Anatomy.” Next year, she’ll return as character Jerrika Little on the second season of Showtime’s “The Chi.”
The sibling directors who released the 2017 drama “Fishbowl” have recently moved to Nashville. Their music video “Send In The Sun” for country music singer Nikki Lane was featured in Rolling Stone in September. Alexa, a graduate of Marriotts Ridge High School, is photographing a slew of album covers before the pair teams up again to shoot music videos for Ruston Kelly and Lucie Silvas. Stephen, a River Hill grad, directed “The Confidential Informant” storyline in “DC Noir,” a film based on the eponymous anthology by George Pelecanos. That is in post-production.