Working in politics is not the usual springboard into a singing career, but this was the unorthodox path of Christian conservative Mary Millben.
In today’s episode, Millben sits down with The Daily Signal to discuss her unique career path, and what it’s like to be a conservative in the entertainment industry. Millben also talks about her songs featured in the film “The Meanest Man in Texas,” and how her faith has shaped her journey. Read the lightly edited transcript, posted below, or listen on the podcast:
Virginia Allen: I am joined by Mary Millben, actress, singer, and friend of The Daily Signal.
Mary Millben: That’s right. Friend is the most important.
Allen: Yes, absolutely. Mary, you had a great interview with my colleague, Rob Bluey—
Allen: … just a few months ago, and it’s such a pleasure to have you back.
Millben: Oh, it’s great to see you, and give big hugs to Rob and all the team. I’ll tell you, The Daily Signal absolutely is a friend, and I’m grateful for the relationship that we have.
Allen: Well, you truly are an incredible singer and have had a number of amazing performances. You have performed for three consecutive presidents, including performing the national anthem at the inauguration of President Donald Trump. Now, when did you first know that you wanted to pursue a career in singing?
Millben: That’s a great question. And let me say, again, thank you to The Daily Signal and to The Heritage Foundation, and of course, I’m a big fan and [Heritage Foundation President] Kay Coles James is a dear mentor. So, I definitely want to say that up front.
I have to recall. Before I got into a career in entertainment, I was a presidential appointee for President [George W.] Bush, so I was in a pretty fast track, politically, working for the Bush White House. But, honestly, it was actually at the Bush White House where I caught the artistic bug.
My parents were retired ministers, so we grew up singing in church and doing a lot of the arts as kids, but I never thought that I would pursue it professionally. But it was actually during my days in the Bush White House that I got a great opportunity from some friends who worked in the first lady’s office, first lady Laura Bush that is, and the Visitor Center at the White House who needed a singer for some Christmas parties and Christmas tours during the holiday season.
And longer than short, I went and sang during one of those Christmas tours and it started to become a regular gig. … My last several months of working at the White House, working for the Bush White House, and so it was really there where [I began my singing career.]
And I thank President Bush and former first lady Laura Bush for their kindness and for seeing an opportunity where I could use some other gifts, in the context of where I was, and to the bosses that I had during the Bush White House who were big lovers of the arts, who let me go off and venture and do that. And so, it was a combination of just encouragement during that time and then those opportunities.
So, when I was singing for the Christmas tours and the Christmas parties, a lot of people [would] come to the White House, and that time, a lot of patrons and folks were involved in the artistic community, the theaters here in Washington, D.C. And that’s really how it started.
I met some great people at that time who then presented some opportunities after we left the Bush White House. And in fact, it was about, I want to say three or four weeks after the administration changed from President [Barack] Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama came in, I started rehearsals for a show at Arena Stage and got my Equity card. And then, theater took off and music took off.
I say all of that, the long answer to your question, for those who are listening because you never know how God will shape your path. The world will tell you that there [are] traditional routes or … certain ways you’re going to get to this career, certain ways you’re going to get here, but God, he works in mysterious ways.
And as an encouragement to those listening, don’t underestimate an unorthodox path. Don’t underestimate a nontraditional route to whatever your dream is or whatever God is calling you to do. Trust the timing and trust the route, and embrace whatever may be unorthodox because it can be a life-changing experience. And that’s what it was for me.
Allen: Yeah. I love your story because you’re right, it is so unorthodox.
Millben: It is.
Allen: You don’t usually think, “Well, my career in politics will, obviously, lead to my career as a singer.”
Millben: That’s right. I always joke, the White House in Washington, D.C., it’s like a revolving Broadway show. It changes every four years, or depending on how many years, but the intersections of politics and entertainment, it certainly happens often.
So, certainly, working in politics was a great springboard to going into entertainment, particularly with a lot of the skills and things that I learned as a young staffer working as a presidential appointee. But even more so, I think that experience really taught me what we just talked about, and that is, embracing an unorthodox path and just trusting God and how he shapes us and moves us. And certainly, he works in mysterious ways.
Allen: He does indeed. Now, do you have a favorite performance that you look back on?
Millben: Wow. I tell ya, I say this with humility, I have had some tremendous experiences that I don’t feel qualified for or don’t have a resume for, so I count it to the good Lord.
But I tell ya, one memory that really sticks out to me, aside from singing for President Trump’s inaugural celebration—that really was an incredible moment, not only because it was quite a exciting election, so it was just an amazing time to be in D.C. when that happened—but I would say outside of that, singing at the Super Bowl halftime show with Bruce Springsteen.
I’m a huge Bruce Springsteen fan. I wish we agreed more in politics, but that’s OK. It’s good. As Ellen [DeGeneres] said, you should be kind and have friends from all shapes and sizes. So I had talked to Ellen [about] that and her friendship with President Bush. But I’m a big Springsteen fan and got the great opportunity, with some other folks, to sing backup for him at the Super Bowl halftime show. This was back in 2009 I believe.
And I love the NFL. I’m a big football fan, and certainly, that moment to be on stage, looking at it, we were in Tampa that year and seeing all those people and the energy on stage with a legend like Bruce Springsteen, it was a really incredible moment. And it was also a defining moment.
In fact, at that time, I was still working in the government, and so I hadn’t really declared going into a profession in the arts, but that was a very meaningful moment where I thought, “Wow, to get up every day and do what Bruce is doing every day and the joy and the energy and excitement of music, seeing a whole stadium,” reacting to that, I was really moved.
So, I would say that was a really incredible moment. A lot of people who think, because I do sing a lot politically and have done theater in New York and those type of things, that those would be [incredible moments], and they are, but I would say the Super Bowl … was a great ride. It was a great ride.
Allen: That is a pretty incredible experience, I’m sure.
Millben: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Allen: So, Mary, you recently were part of a feature film called “The Meanest Man in Texas.” Can you share a little bit about your role in that movie, and what was that experience like being on set?
Millben: Well, in fact, I actually was never on set for the film. My first single that I recorded is the closing song in the film. … First of all, I hope everyone gets a chance to see it. It’s right now on Amazon Prime, and so you can view it there. And we’re really excited because “Grace Will Lead Me Home,” again, which is the closing song [in] the film, is now Oscar-eligible, Academy Award-eligible, so we’re very excited about that and the journey that it’s taken to get here.
It’s a beautiful song recorded with 2018 Hall of Fame songwriter, Hall of Fame inductee Steve Dorff, and a wonderful Grammy Award-winning, multiple award-winning songwriter, Maribeth Derry. And it was just an incredible experience to work with them in California and record this song, which is all about grace.
So many twists and turns of life, we can all look back and say, “If it was not for God’s grace, the element of grace … ” that probably saved a lot of us and certainly helped a lot of us in all different types of time.
Being a part of this film in that regard, in contributing music, in my first film, my first single—a lot of firsts in this regard. I am really proud of the project. I’m really proud of this film and the relationship that it has to our song. And I just hope and pray that this song will continue to live on as we approach the award season for film and television, and we’re crossing our fingers that it gets some traction and does well.
I think it’s a really important time right now in the country where artists and music can really be a game-changer. The same for film and television. I think just the arts in general is a great arena to help impact and bring change. And with the country being so divided, I think that this presents a great opportunity for films and television and music to marry and do good.
So, I’m really happy to be a part of the film and hope everyone can see it, and the song is out there, too, and we’re really excited. And I think, The Daily Signal, you all have been a great partner in elevating the film and the song and being a part of our journey, so thank you for that as well.
Allen: Well, congratulations to you. That’s quite the accomplishment and [is] so exciting.
Millben: I know. To God be the glory. We’re really, really happy.
Allen: And you are so open about your conservative views. What is that like being in the industry that you work in and being so vocal about being a conservative?
Millben: It’s not a cake walk, my love. It’s tough to be a conservative, I think, period. But I will give some credit, certainly, to President Trump and his encouragement to embrace your convictions and embrace who you are.
Coming from a life in entertainment and business before coming into the presidency, I think those roles have impacted how we can all be more vocal about our truths, about our convictions and who we are, and so I will certainly credit and thank the president for that encouragement.
And while it’s tough, I have felt a bit more liberated as an artist to not be afraid to share my conservative values. It’s who I am. It’s part of what I do. … Conservative or liberal, whatever side you happen to be on, I think it’s important that you stay true to who you are, stay true to your convictions, and allow that to be at the forefront of everything you do.
And so, I’m a proud conservative. I’m a proud conservative. I’ll say it again. I’m a proud conservative. And I’m never afraid to share those convictions in what I do every day.
A good friend, Gary Sinise, who I know you all are certainly acquainted with, he says a statement a lot—in fact, in his new book called “Grateful American,” which is such a great, great book. Go get it, go get it. But Gary always says, “I know where my freedom comes from, and I know where my blessings come from.” And for me, that statement is rooted in my conservative values.
I know [where] my freedom comes from. I know where my blessings come from. I know how important my faith is to who I am and what I do. So, I feel blessed, and I’m very grateful that I’ve been put in spaces and in a season of life and in my career where I’m able to be vocal about being a conservative.
Allen: And for anyone listening who struggles with this, who is a conservative, but maybe they’re a closet conservative and they don’t know how to express their viewpoints and beliefs, what advice would you give to them?
Millben: Be true to who you are. I know there’s the temptation to be everything to everyone, and that can sometimes bring upon fears to be vocal about who you are. But I think that there’s a way to do that and still have civility, to still be kind, to still be amongst differing opinions.
I think the recent example we saw with Ellen [DeGeneres] and President [George W.] Bush was a good example, that those are two people on very different sides of the aisle and certainly life and philosophy, but they’re great friends.
And Ellen said, “Look, it’s a beautiful thing that I can be friends with someone [when] we don’t think the same way [about] policy or may have different approaches to life, but we can still be kind and still love each other and still enjoy each other.” And so, I think the stronger you are in your convictions, the easier it is to do that.
I have many friends on the other side of the aisle and enjoy spending time with them and hearing their perspectives and [I’m] not afraid to share mine. But I think the more you are true to who you are, the easier it is for you to be respectful and understanding and maybe, even [in] some ways, tolerant of people and views that don’t particularly align with yours.
So, absolutely, anybody listening that is a closet conservative, come out honey. Get on the train. Join the parade, I would say, and be true to yourself.
Allen: Thank you for sharing that, Mary, I appreciate that.
Allen: What is the message that you hope, really, to shine through your music as you’re singing? What is that, maybe, main takeaway you’re hoping your listeners will walk away with?
Millben: I pray that every time I am given an opportunity to be on a platform to sing, share music in any way as through a film or any other kind of avenue is that, God’s power is evident. The greatest source that you can plug into is the power of God. I’m a preacher’s kid, so it’s hard for me to not invoke—
Allen: You can preach. It’s OK.
Millben: It’s hard for me to not invoke the Lord when I get asked questions like that. But I will tell you, God’s power is the greatest force, and when you humble yourself before God and you tap into that source, you can go anywhere, you can do anything, honestly.
So, when I get on the stage, in fact, right before I get on to sing, I don’t care where I am, I don’t care who I’m singing for, I don’t care what I’m doing, I just take a moment backstage and I have a word of prayer. And I ask God, “Come into this space. Come on this stage. Let your power be seen. Let it not be me. Let it be you.”
And that is my prayer every time I sing, no matter what the environment is, religious or nonreligious, or political or nonpolitical, I pray that God’s power is seen. Because if his power is present, then one, I’m going to have a great performance. But two, that means that people will walk away, hopefully, changed.
I want people to walk away always inspired after there’s an opportunity to perform. I want people to walk away saying, “Whatever she’s got, I want,” and what that is, is the power of God. And so, that’s the biggest thing I really hope and pray. …
That should always be, I think, all of our prayers, is that something higher, something more divine is seen when we exercise our gifts. Because if we step out of the way and allow that divine power to come in, whatever your profession is—singer, doctor, lawyer, teacher, stay-at-home mom or dad, whatever your profession is—if you can tap into that divinity, you can change the world, my friend.
Allen: Yeah. That’s powerful. Thank you, Mary. So, how can people follow your work?
Millben: Well, I know there are social media platforms, and I’ll be honest, I’m more of a private person so I’m not usually on those platforms. Usually, other people, forgive me, I’ll be transparent, that are replying my behalf, but there are social media platforms across all of the platforms out there.
I do have a newsletter that goes out to, now, a fan base. I think over the years we’ve accumulated about 30,000 to 40,000 people on a fan base [where] I do have a more direct outlet to speak to fans and share my heart and share things a bit more immediate than some of the social media platforms.
So, anybody can join that. [email protected], you can email that and add your email to the Listserv and be a part of that community. It’s a great way that I can directly speak to fans because I enjoy doing that.
I’m pretty much, I’m everywhere, I tell you, these days. So, follow the social media, and if you’re in a city where I am, I love meeting new people and I certainly love speaking to folks after performances.
The personal touch is really important to me. It’s not sometimes what we can always do in entertainment, but I certainly enjoy that when I have the strength and energy to do it after performing. So, yeah, please, if you see I’m in a city, reach out, and we’d love to see you and certainly appreciate all the support.
Allen: That’s great. And I’ll be sure to put those social media handles in our show notes.
Millben: Yeah, absolutely.
I think my sister’s going to yell that I just gave out my personal email. It’s Gmail. Come on, we all have Gmail.
Allen: Well, Mary, we really appreciate your time. Thank you so much.
Millben: Oh, thank you! I tell you, thanks so much, Virginia, for having me, and God’s blessings to The Daily Signal. God’s continued blessings to The Heritage Foundation and to [the Family Research Council] at this wonderful summit where we are, and I thank Rob [Bluey] and all the team for the kindness. Thank you all again.
Allen: We really appreciate it. Thanks, Mary.