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THE KNOXVILLE UKULELE SCENE
Knoxville Brings Big Talent To A Small City
When it comes to the ukulele, America has some serious talent. The little instrument has been popping up in small town cafes, on viral videos and even under the arms of celebrities. The current ukepocalypse taking over America has left no state untouched – including Knoxville, Tennessee.
The city with a small town feel is known for its Womens Basketball Hall of Fame, historic architecture and weekly farmer’s markets. Musically, Knoxville has plenty to boast about. From the early days of WNOX (one of the ten oldest radio stations in the United States) to the current Big Ears Music Festival, Knoxville is a haven for music.
The city’s radio stations have historically played an important role in bringing bluegrass and country music to the masses, and today, music can be enjoyed at local clubs, bars, and at annual festivals.
Ukesphere of Knoxville is the city’s most famous ukulele club, meeting occasionally to play and sing. All ages, styles and abilities are welcome, and the club’s founder, Kelle Jolly, is something of a celebrity herself.
Jolly – a singer, musician, actor, TV and radio personality, and community organizer – is one of East Tennessee’s most celebrated jazz musicians. She and her husband, saxophonist Will Boyd, were the 2015 MLK Art Award recipients in Knoxville.
Jolly has spent the last 11 years living in Knoxville and calls the ukulele her string instrument of choice. One of her most-requested songs, Tennessee Ukulele Lady, is one she made up for Ukesphere as a theme song.
But she’s not the only talented uke player to come out of The Marble City. Thirteen-year-old country music prodigy EmiSunshine also calls the Knoxville area home.
Living just an hour outside of the city in Madisonville, Tennessee, EmiSunshine is a musical talent worthy of attention. A singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist (who often performs with a ukulele), she writes Appalachian folk tunes and sings them with ferocity beyond the reach of most artists today. At 10 months old, she was able to harmonize. At five years old, she wrote her first song. By age seven, she had recorded two albums.
Critics and fans have agreed that the 13-year-old, who now has more than 14 million views on YouTube and 500,000 Facebook friends, deserves to be a chart-topping musician.
If one thing is for sure, it’s that Knoxville, Tennessee is teeming with incredibly skilled ukulele players. Whether you’re a beginner, an amateur or a pro, there’s something for you in East Tennessee.
For those who prefer to watch rather than play, Knoxville has over 14 music venues, and you can be sure you’ll catch musical talent like Kelle Jolly and EmiSunshine there.
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