She’s rockin’ sign language for music fans without hearing
PORTLAND, Maine — Holly Maniatty creates music — for the deaf. Teaming American Sign Language with dance moves and body language, she brings musical performances alive for those who can’t hear. Her clients are a who’s who of rock, pop and hip-hop: Bruce Springsteen, Eminem, Mumford and Sons, Jay-Z, Billy Joel, Marilyn Manson, U2, Beastie Boys and Wu-Tang Clan, to name a few. Along the way, videos of her fastmotion, helter-skelter signing have become popular online. There’s the video of Springsteen jumping down from the stage at the New Orleans Jazz Fest and joining Maniatty and another interpreter. There, he dances and signs to Dancing in the Dark. “Deaf people were commenting, ’Oh, the Boss knows he has deaf fans. That’s awesome,”’ she said. “When artists connect with their interpreters, they also connect with their deaf fans.” In another video, rap artist Killer Mike approaches Maniatty in front of the stage after noticing her. “I’ve never seen that before,” he says to her before challenging her to sign a profane phrase, which she does as the crowd hoots and hollers. At a Wu-Tang performance, Method Man took notice of her signing, came down from the stage and joined her. “He said, ’That’s dope,’ and gave me a hug and a fist pump,” she said. This month, she found herself at New England’s largest drag queen show, signing as performers from all over sashayed down the runway and lip-synched to booming music. The 33-year-old Maniatty, who lives outside Portland, learned sign language while studying it at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York. She decided to make a living of it despite counsellors’ advice against it. She works for a company that connects deaf people with other people over videophones that are connected online to computers or TVs. But from mid-April to mid-September, she travels for paid gigs interpreting all types of music — hip-hop, rock, jazz, country, gospel, rap.