Matt’s determination to reach his goals landed him a coveted spot on The Voice when Blake Shelton turned around for him. He has traveled overseas to perform for our deployed troops. He’s sung for families of our fallen soldiers, performed for George Strait, and carries his guitar into darkened hospital rooms to bring some light and hope to critically ill or injured patients and their families.
We sat down with Matt in the middle of an event where he was singing for families of fallen soldiers. Listen in to his interview to hear him talk about why he does what he does, what success truly means, and how he manages to keep doing what he does best with such grace.
He made it to Team Blake on The Voice, but that’s not what this country singer counts as his greatest achievement in life.
American Snippets sat down with Matt Snook for an exclusive interview and we are proud to share his story here:
An “aw shucks” smile and humble demeanor belie the fire burning behind Matt Snook’s baby blues. His voice pierces the armor of any bad mood, and his commitment to using that voice to help others places him in the category of Extraordinary.
Fortunately for Matt Snook, his passion for singing is well suited for his talent. He’s been singing since he was three years old. He began with God, singing in church. He then won a local talent show at the ripe old age of six before hitting the local country music theaters at the age of 7 – which basically means he’d accomplished more before the first grade than many of us do in a lifetime – and he was just getting started.
By high school, Matt and his band were playing in Missouri Honky Tonks – Yes, he actually said Honky Tonks and I giggled like I am not also a country girl. But I digress.
As Matt bid adieu to the childhood he said hello to the love of his life, and was smart enough to marry her. He and his wife Stephanie are a team in every sense. Together they decided it was time for him to quit his day jobs for a move to Nashville when Matt’s voice still demanded to be heard.
Sure, they were excited when he made it through the thousands of hopefuls auditioning for the Voice. And they were hopeful when Blake turned his chair and disappointed when he was knocked out of the competition. But they regrouped and found a way for Matt to continue doing what he was born to do.
If a voice as touching to listen to as Matt’s, and heart and soul and determination and effort were enough to make it in the music industry, he’d be all over iTunes and every radio station in the country. But sometimes life’s just not fair, and he still has not managed to punch through that impermeable barrier between here and famous. So he decided to do something even better.
“I love to sing but I more so love to sing to people that need to hear something.”
If one version of success continues to prove elusive Matt almost doesn’t mind because he realizes that he doesn’t need to sing simply for the sake of doing so. He wants to be heard by people who need to hear him – Like the soldiers in burn units, battling excruciating pain as a result of combat injuries. Some of these soldiers won’t make it out of the hospital. Some call those the lucky ones as the physical, emotional, and even financial toll of these severe burns disfigure not only bodies but souls.
When Matt sings for them he knows he is bringing just a little brightness or peace into that hospital room, just a few moments where minds can be lifted out of agony and fear, and into happiness or strength. His audience can’t clap. There is no spotlight shining on him. But he sings with more passion than some of the most highly paid performers pour into any of their performances. Moments like those, he says, are what he truly values.
Most of the people Matt Snook sings for instantly welcome his voice and his presence.
Some, however, do not. Matt shared memories of some of the more difficult moments, including protectiv e or hurt family members questioning his presence in hospitals. One person still stands out in his mind and had a profound, lasting impact on him that has become a core principle behind why he does what he does.
She was young, about 18 years old, and she had only a few weeks of life left. Her family was in the room with her and the tension was impossible to miss. He didn’t know what the family was going through or what he’d just walked into, but he knew he could help. The girl glared at him for what seemed like a long time before subtly giving him a nod of permission. And he sang, just one song, and she smiled, and he was struck with the enormity of her allowing him to spend those moments with him when moments were all she had left. He never knew her name but he carries her with him.
“Music is almost like cheating. It allows you to get into places other people don’t always get to go.”
Whenever Matt talks about what draws him to perform for others, he explains that lesson he’s learned from all the people he feels privileged to sing for. Soldiers in Iraq, patients in hospitals, or other military-focused events like Snowball Express, where I met Matt, all hold a special place in his heart.
It’s been about eight years since Matt started volunteering his time to participate in Snowball Express. This annual gathering of families of fallen soldiers now takes place in the Dallas, Fort Worth area each year, just before Christmas. American Airlines is one of this event’s largest sponsors. This past December, twelve chartered jets with all-volunteer crews flew families from all across the country to and from Dallas for an extraordinary few days. One of the things many families count on each year is hearing Matt’s voice and spending time with him.
You’d be hard pressed to find a more powerful moment in this event than hearing Matt sing our National Anthem. From there, he performs not just on stage but at random, impromptu concerts throughout the event.
He has sung on busses, in hallways, at fire pits, and in lobbies. And when he’s not singing he can often be found with the children. He shared one story of a young widow whose little boy really wanted to ride a roller-coaster as much as she really did not.
Matt’s not exactly a fan of roller-coasters but, “You don’t say no to a Gold Star family,” he says. She gratefully entrusted her son to Matt, who spent about an hour on line with that little boy.
They chatted about this and that until the boy popped out with, “You know my dad died.” Matt told the boy that yes, he knew that, and the conversation moved on with this admission made and that burden lifted from the little boy. As they finally approached the front of that line Matt’s new friend announced he didn’t want to ride the roller coaster, after all, and they abandoned the mission.
Was he annoyed at standing in line for an hour only to jump out? Heck no. He considered it an honor to be trusted with that mom’s son, and they are now friends.
I asked Matt what drives him to continue spending time at Snowball Express each year, many times even bringing one of his sons with him, and his soft voice carried a strong answer:
People ask me all the time about the Voice experience. And I get why. I understand why. I’ll tell you just that that before I went through the two red doors, I was thinking about my experiences in the past, and what I have done with people, and it completely calmed me down and grounded me and I think that really helped me deliver a great performance in what would appear to be a really clutch moment….. And I have learned way more from Snowball Express families than they will ever get from me.
Those experiences I get to share with my friends and family. So.. I feel very blessed that .. Music is like the medium. But what’s really cool is when people let you into their space and you get to hear some of their challenges. Maybe some of their highs and lows. So it’s really my pleasure to come to play for Snowball Express.
Matt went on to say that he is inspired by the Gold Star families, and feels as if he is simply supposed to be there with us. So much so that he would actually feel horrible if he didn’t go. Even when faced with people like me, who gave him a hard time when I first met him. Yes, regretfully, he did remember how this young, still pretty bitter widow challenged his presence at our event.
I suspected he may be exploiting the cause to advance his career when, in fact, I could not have been more wrong. Thankfully, he is as forgiving and understanding as he is talented, and after all these years seeing each other I now count him as a friend. Phew!
Before I let him go I asked Matt if he has any advice for people who may feel equally passionate about something, but struggle to stay committed in the face of stress or hard times. His advice can be heard at the end of our interview, captured in raw footage from our much loved Marine friend William “Monsoon” Mimiaga, who is much better at being a Marine than a cameraman, but to whom we are grateful for taking the time to do so anyway.