Youth no obstacle to musical success for 8-year-old EmiSunshine
By Steve Wildsmith (email@example.com)
Music comes naturally to a lot of kids. Few, however, can carry a tune when they’re only 9 months old.
“That’s when I first heard her sing,” said Madisonville resident Randall Hamilton of his now 8-year-old daughter, Emily “EmiSunshine” Hamilton. “She was singing a little song that her grandmother taught her, and she could sing it. She could hold the melody and sing it in tune. That’s when I thought, maybe we’ve got a little singer here. That kind of rekindled my passion for playing music.”
Music runs hot in the blood of the extended Hamilton family — Emily, Randall, mom/wife Alisha and Alisha’s son from a previous relationship, John Letner — but Emily’s talent emerged early and never let up. Today, she’s something of an East Tennessee wunderkind who loves the crowds, the stage and the songs.
Randall’s path started with his grandmother, Wanda White, a professional singer who backed up numerous country stars of the day on the old WNOX-AM “Midday Merry-Go-Round” program. He started playing drums, bass and guitar in his teens, went to Middle Tennessee State University and earned a degree in music production; He met Alisha in 1997. The couple made Madisonville their home, and he put playing music aside, focusing instead on recording while his wife taught herself to play guitar and wrote songs and children’s books.
Their daughter’s talent changed everything. Her oldest memory is singing “You Are My Sunshine” at the wedding of an aunt and uncle when she was 4; Randall realized his daughter’s natural talent tilted toward precociousness when she was 5.
“That’s when she wrote her first song,” he said. “She wrote the words and came up with the melody, I came up with a chord progression and we put the song together the first day we wrote it.”
Called “My Time to Fly,” it was a gospel song inspired by “His Eye on the Sparrow.” Over the next year, EmiSunshine became a full-fledged performer, starting out with a victory in a Madisonville singing contest backed up by her dad on guitar and her brother on mandolin. Word got out about the little girl with the big voice, and soon EmiSunshine was being asked to sing at churches, festivals and area events.
Today, she’s learning to play ukulele and has started taking bass lessons from local bluegrass maestro Roscoe Morgan. She’s also taking vocal lessons to build on an already-amazing voice at Maryville Rock Academy, where she’ll perform this weekend. Through her father’s work as a sound engineer for various Monroe Area Council for the Arts events, she’s got to meet some of her musical heroes — Rodney Crowell and the Carolina Chocolate Drops, for example — and she’s appeared on the WDVX-FM program “Kidstuff,” hosted by Sean McCollough of The Lonetones.
“It’s a very positive thing in her life,” Alisha said. “The more she sings out, the more confident she is. She’s a little shy around people she admires — she loves Sarah Pirkle, and she’s so shy around her — but that makes her more confident when she gets up to sing too. Her grades are good, and since she’s home-schooled, she has time to do more music lessons.”
But while Alisha and Randall are proud of their baby girl and encourage her blossoming career (Emi’s goal, she added shyly, is to one day sing at the Grand Ole Opry), they don’t push her to do anything but be the best at whatever she does — whether performing on stage or going into the studio, as she’ll do in January when the family starts work on a new album of original material.
“We present all of the opportunities to her,” Randall added. “If somebody calls and wants her to play a festival, we’ll take it to her and say, ‘Do you want to play this? There’s this other thing going on that you might have to miss if you do.’ I don’t have an end game in mind for this; as long as she’s happy and wants to sing and play and keep learning music, I’m extremely happy about that.
“If tomorrow she decides she wants to stop and play basketball, that’s fine with me too. But I think she has a God-given talent, and I’ll stand behind her as long as she wants to.”