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Like many before her, Joy Williams moved a long way from home to Nashville to pursue music. Unlike many before her, she found success—albeit after a dozen years of hard work as a writer and vocalist. Her folk duo, the Civil Wars (her other professional half is Alabamian John Paul White), had their song “Poison & Wine” featured on Grey’s Anatomy in 2010, and then appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno in January 2011. When they released their album, a haunting mix of Southern spiritual and Southern short story, it topped out at number one on iTunes. Williams is still bowled over. “I would’ve never anticipated it but am savoring the adventure of it all,” she says. “To finally see momentum building is nothing short of thrilling.”
Vocalist, Songwriter, Fiddler
“Being from the South just fits me,” Texas native Amanda Shires says. “I love summer clothes, porch swings, mint juleps, and fiddle playing.” It’s the playing that’s brought Shires the most attention, for her part in the alt-country band Thrift Store Cowboys and in her growing solo catalog. With a voice that’s equal parts angelic and somber paired with virtuosic fiddle talents, it’s no wonder she was cast as a band member of Gwyneth Paltrow’s character’s in Country Strong or that she counts former Drive-By Trucker Jason Isbell and Justin Townes Earle as fans, even appearing on the cover of Earle’s debut, The Good Life. Drawing comparisons to everyone from Dolly Parton to Tom Waits, Shires is an intriguing mix of darkness and lighthearted ease—just like the South itself.
Vocalist, Songwriter, Actor
Schuyler Fisk wrote her first song after being snubbed by a boy at fourteen: “I just picked up a guitar, played the few chords my mom had taught me, and took my frustrations out in the music.” Now a multitalented performer like her mother, Sissy Spacek, Fisk continues to draw from her own emotions and life experiences, as well as the people around her. After wrapping up production on the Gus Van Sant film Restless, which she’ll appear in this fall, Fisk returned home to Virginia to write and record her second album, Blue Ribbon Winner, which came out in March. Culling inspiration from what you know isn’t the only thing Fisk’s mama taught her. “My mom worked her whole career to be an actress, not to be a celebrity,” Fisk says, “and she always told me to be respectful and kind and as nice to people on the way up as you are on the way down.”
You don’t hear much about the music scene in Hendersonville, North Carolina, but Lizz Wright has never been one to follow the crowd. Her smoky, soul-laden voice is as unique as her background. Wright’s first four albums range from inspiring gospel to sophisticated jazz, an output that stems from Wright’s early days singing and playing piano at the Georgia church where her father was a minister. Consider, for
example, her bluesy rendition of “Amazing Grace” on her most recent release, Fellowship. But Wright’s virtues and work ethic were most inspired by another classy Southern woman—her grandmother. “In all things, she takes her time and is deeply optimistic,” Wright says. “She laughs easily. As I grow older, I hope I can fully embody my grandmother’s remarkable peace.”