Music has been part of her life for longer than 17-year-old Jaelee Roberts can remember.
Her earliest memories are of being backstage at the Opry when dad Danny Roberts, mandolin player and founding member of the Grascals, played there. But even before that, she noted, “Mom said I would sit in the car seat singing harmony to random songs on the radio.”
Now, the Murfreesboro, TN, native is making new memories, writing songs, planning to release a debut single by the end of the year and playing with the Rebekah Long Band.
Some of the freshest memories are from her recent stay at Grammy Camp in Los Angeles. “For five days, you’re just completely surrounded by music,” she said. “I just learned so much.”
This was her second stint at the competitive camp, following last year’s event in Nashville. She focused on vocals but her favorite part of this year’s camp was collaborating with songwriters who were part of the program.
A video from the mid-June experience features Jaelee showcasing her big voice on Don’t Worry, a song she worked on with fellow campers Lucy Michaelian, Jaxx Michele, and Austin Saigal.
While bluegrass runs in the family – in addition to dad’s work with the Grascals, mom Andrea Roberts is an upright bass player with a successful booking and management agency – Jaelee is is still searching for her musical home. When she writes alone, her songs tend toward country and folk. When she writes with a friend, she said, the sound is more contemporary.
But she knows what she’s aiming for.
“I try to channel Harley Allen when I write,” she said, invoking the name of the bluegrass and country writer and singer who died in 2011. “When I sing, too.” I suggested that was a surprising choice for a teen, she noted that he had been a family friend and that her mom’s band had recorded his music.
Jaelee has been playing the fiddle since she was four years old. And though writing is a more recent undertaking, “When I sit down to write, I have a guitar in my hand, but the words usually come first.”
When she heads into the studio later this year to record her debut single, it won’t be a totally new experience. When she was 12, she sang two songs on a solo record her dad recorded. At least one thing will different this time around. Last time, she said, “I sang with a mouthful of braces.”
I’m looking forward to hearing the single and watching another young talent blossom.