Haylee Kinsler, Shelby Peace, Hadassah White, Andi Strong, Halie Lynn, Emily Myers and Allison Broyles
“Her passion for traditional music led to the establishment of the Mountain Music School which over the past twelve years has attracted students from ages eight to 88 and from across the United States, Canada, and Scotland. Every summer, students study the fiddle, banjo, guitar, mandolin, shape note singing and song writing. She was also the driving force behind the creation of the Scott County, Virginia, and Wise County, Virginia, Junior Appalachian Musicians (JAMs) programs.”
So reads, in part, Sue Ella Boatright-Wells’ obituary.
The Miss Ellie String Band was first conceived as a tribute to Sue Ella, affectionately referred to as Miss Ellie, who was an instrumental part of Mountain Music School, a week-long program held each summer at Mountain Empire Community College in Big Stone Gap, Virginia. All members of the group have been a product of that program in one way or another.
The group, which came together in its present form in January 2017, is made up of seven teenage girls, ranging in age from 15 to 18. They all play traditional mountain music, although incorporate some country, bluegrass, Gospel music, and even an occasional show tune or pop song adapted to the bluegrass style.
Five of the members have been with the group since its inception.
Allison Broyles plays upright bass, primarily, and guitar. She sings a few songs and adds background and harmony vocals for the group.
Haylee Kinsler, a recent graduate of Gate City High School, sings lead and plays the fiddle and guitar in the group. She is a songwriter also. The oldest member of Miss Ellie String Band is part of a musical family ……..
“My love for music started before I was even born. My father would play the guitar for my mother, and I would move around in the womb! One day while me and my family were shopping in Kingsport, Tennessee, we drove by The School of Music. My grandmother asked me, ‘If you were to play an instrument, what would you choose?’ My response was, ‘The fiddle!’ I met my first fiddle instructor that same day. I knew then God had a musical plan in store for me.
As I grew up, I became more proficient at my practices. Most people know me by my fiddle playing, and I have been honored to have won several competitions over recent years, but I play a variety of instruments and sing. I picked up the guitar, claw-hammer banjo, acoustic/electric bass, mandolin, ukulele, harp, piano, and the oboe. I was also inspired by the rich Appalachian culture in this area to write a song about the coal mining industry. The name of my original song is Proud Daughter Of Coal.
I have attended Mountain Music School the past few years. We [The Miss Ellie String Band] formed in 2016 and have played all over south-west Virginia, and one event in eastern Tennessee. One of the greatest honors is that we were the opening act for Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver at the Country Cabin in Norton, Virginia.
Music is such a big part of my life, whether it’s singing with my family in church, or with my Miss Ellie family at local festivals. I thank God for blessing me with these talents and forever want to use them to uplift others and inspire other young girls to pick up an instrument and give it a try!”
Halie Lynn, from Norton, Virginia, and a founding member of the group also, is, at 17, a year younger than Haylee Kinsler. She relates…….
“I play guitar, banjo, bass, and I’m a vocalist. I’ve been playing music with some of our members since we were 11 years old. We all have grown a great deal as musicians and young women. Miss Ellie’s String Band is probably one of the only all teenage girl bluegrass groups in existence. Our leaders Larry Mullins and Joey O’Quinn volunteer a lot of time and energy to make sure we grow and learn.”
As an indicator of how very close-knit the group is, they all rallied around Halie Lynn when she experienced a health issue in 2017 …..
“We are all like musical sisters supporting each other on and off stage. A couple years ago I had a severe allergic reaction known as Steven-Johnson’s Syndrome, and was rushed to Shiners Hospital in Cincinnati. I had extreme blisters all over my skin that had to be treated as burns. My band mates showed me support and concern during a very scary time. I was healed in two weeks and I know it was a blessing from God through the prayer of my family and friends. It’s the challenges in life which make us stronger. If you miss a note, just keep on picking.”
Andromeda (Andi) Strong plays banjo, guitar and sings on some songs. She also provides harmony and background vocals.
Last, but not least, of the original five members is Hadassah White. She plays guitar and sings lead and backup vocals. She performs bluegrass, country music, traditional and contemporary Gospel, Broadway show tunes, and even some opera.
Two additional members have joined the band recently, bringing the total to seven, ensuring that the group continued to grow and evolve. They are Shelby Peace, who plays doghouse bass, mandolin and guitar; and Emily Myers, who plays guitar, ukulele and adds vocals.,
Emily Myers is 15 years old and joined the Miss Ellie String Band last fall………..
“Mr. Mullins, our coordinator, was the teacher of the beginning guitar class at Mountain Music School in July, and I was one of his students. At the end of the week, he asked me if I would like to participate in an all-girl string band in Big Stone Gap. Though I am the only home-schooler, and I live the farthest away in Kingsport, Tennessee, the band was a welcome activity, since I play piano, recorder, ukulele, and guitar.
My family has a limited background in playing instruments; my uncle was the only one that played a string instrument. The rest of my family either play piano or do not play an instrument. I grew up, however, with a lot of music because my parents were raised singing in church or school choirs. As a child, I constantly heard hymns, southern Gospel, and classical music, but I enjoyed those times that I heard bluegrass and upbeat southern Gospel best. Bluegrass is such an enjoyable genre with room for improvisation and vocal harmonies; those qualities are part of what I like about the band. The rehearsals are a lot of fun, especially when we occasionally mess up and start making the weird faces at each other!
The Miss Ellie band inspired me to create my own string band! I am a Junior Apprentice, along with my twin brother, at the Exchange Place, a living history farm in Kingsport. Several of us play string instruments; some play multiple. With the wide range in instruments and the fact that several of us were in choir, I decided that we should form a band! You never know where life will take you, and I am glad it took me to the Miss Ellie String Band.”
Miss Ellie plays in festivals and at events in and around southwest Virginia, including the Papa Joe Smiddy Festival (Natural Tunnel in Duffield), Heartwood Youth Festival (Abingdon), Fall Fling (Wise), and Home Craft Days (Big Stone Gap). They have hosted several open mic events, and lunches on the lawn for Southwest Virginia Museum, and have been featured at Pickin in the Park and The Tunnel lighting at Natural Tunnel in Duffield, Virginia.
In addition, they have made appearances in northeast Tennessee and eastern Kentucky.
In April 2018 Knoxville-based Americana band, The Black Lillies, and MECC’s Mountain Music School/Miss Ellie’s String Band played a benefit for MECC’s Mountain Music School. The Black Lillies debuted their tribute song, Miss Ellie, during the show.
Recently The Miss Ellie String Band opened for Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver, and last month (24-28 July 2019), they performed at Floyd Fest, one of their biggest events to date.
The Miss Ellie String Band keeps the rich traditions of mountain music alive. As an all-girl, all-teenager band, they appeal to a wide audience and yet still remain faithful to the heritage of the music that they love to play.
The Miss Ellie String Band is independent of the JAMs program. However, all the girls have roots in this program one way or another.
Larry Mullins and Joey O’Quinn, a couple of JAMs instructors, have helped to facilitate some of the managerial duties for the group.
Here are a couple of videos of The Miss Ellie String Band from the High Knob Music Festival.