Young Uns #2 – Ashley Lilly

Everett and Ashley Lilly“When we saw first saw Ashley her father, Dr. Everett Lilly, said she was just starting to sing publicly. It was at WOB 2008, and she was 10 years old. I believe that was the last year of the Roots and Branches stage over in the ballroom at the Convention Center. We went over to that stage for some reason, and hung around for quite a while.

Tiffany Underwood was the lead singer of the Songcatchers at that time, and she is a very powerful singer. Ashley hung around at the back of the stage until she was called to the mic to sing Little Cabin Home on the Hill. There is a YouTube video of that performance, and it shows exactly what we saw; a young, nervous, perhaps shy little girl with a sweet voice. It was pretty clear that she somehow understood, without knowing why, that it was important for her to sing.

My main thoughts were about the very public display of what traditional music is all about. The multi-generational aspect of the Songcatchers really hit home as I witnessed the young learning from an older generation. The image of Dr. Lilly passing his love of music and playing that music with the younger members of the group really hit home. I felt like I was on a public front porch.”

Pam Warren, superfan, offering a carefully considered view of Ashley Lilly, the subject of this instalment of the Young Uns.

Ashley Lilly, as her names strongly suggests, was born into a musical family. Her grandfather was Everett Lilly of the Lilly Brothers fame.

As well as singing with The Songcatchers, she has recorded with the Sleepy Man Banjo Boys, singing on two tracks; How Deep The Father’s Love For Us and Always The One. In his review of their second album, The Farthest Horizon, John Lawless describes her contribution as “a most welcome addition.”

DJ Jim Beaver, of radio station WHUS in North Carolina, has this to say about the album and Miss Lilly …

“It’s going to surprise everyone. The biggest surprise is Ashley Lilly doing an incredible job of singing How Deep the Father’s Love For Us, I can tell you Ashley can certainly carry on the family legacy.”

I spoke to Ashley Lilly, a 7th grade student at St Francis De Sales School, Beckley, West Virginia, and her understandably-protective father Everett Lilly Jr ….

First, we hear from the proud papa.

“Ashley is, of course, the next generation in our musical family. Her grandfather is Everett Lilly Sr., who played and recorded with Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, among other things. I have also played bluegrass music professionally for many years and played onstage and/or recorded with Bill Monroe, Vassar Clements, Bill Keith and Jim Rooney, The Lilly Brothers and Don Stover (made the Japan tours with them), and of course the Charles River Valley Boys out of Boston when we recorded Beatle Country on Elektra (later released again on Rounder).

When Ashley was quite small she and her mother, Karen Cummings-Lilly, often accompanied me on music trips. She caught quite a bit of attention dancing backstage at the IBMA when my Dad and all of us were warming up once, and she was just doing this naturally. Later she would often, on her own, come up and join me on the stage and just stand by me while we did our show.

When Ashley was eight years old and we were on the road she suddenly asked, ‘Daddy, can I join The Songcatchers?’ My wife and I were both quite surprised as she had never really sang for us. I replied that she could but would have to learn some of our songs.

At this point we hear this voice in the backseat singing one after another of our songs. When I asked where she had learned all of this she replied, “Do you think I haven’t been paying attention” Three months later Ashley, who had just turned age nine, sang Little Cabin Home on the Hill at our IBMA show in Nashville. That song is still on YouTube and I hope it stays there forever.”


And now, Ashley in her own words, about how she approaches music.

Ashley Lilly with Sleepy Man Banjo Boys at World of Bluegrass 2012“I’ve always liked music. I didn’t really think about it. It was like second nature and I just did it.

 Yes, the music is in my blood. My grandfather and his brother were famous bluegrass musicians, and my father has played the music a long time too.

I first sang with The Songcatchers at an outdoor park. I was really nervous, but did just fine. I no longer feel nervous when I perform.

What I look for in a song are lyrics that I can relate to. This includes songs that have meaning but also songs that have my personality in them. I sing about everything. I have never encountered a genre that I don’t like. If it is a pop song I like a catchy tune and a good beat.

Because I listen to a lot of music I can sing a lot of different types of songs. I really like complicated high notes as well. I like a challenge so that when I get the song right I feel like I really accomplished something.

My favorite songs include different types of music. So I like How Deep the Father’s Love for Us (which I recorded with The Sleepy Man Banjo Boys), Can’t You Hear Me Calling?, and Baby You Don’t Know My Mind. Some other types of songs include That’s What You Get by Paramore, Are You Happy Now? by Michele Branch, Good Girl by Carrie Underwood, and Losing Grip by Avril Lavigne.

I have been concentrating on my singing, but am learning the guitar and the piano.

 I take off from school as necessary, and make up the work or take it with me. It is always worth it.

I am the lead singer for The Songcatchers and I need to make sure I do my best on all shows. I am also doing some things on my own. For instance, I recorded on the Sleepy Man Banjo Boys new CD, The Farthest Horizon and I performed with them on their show at the IBMA in Nashville. I will be going to Boston with my Dad to perform with The Charles River Valley Boys on the Joe Val Festival in a couple of weeks. I think I might be singing a high tenor on a couple of their songs which will be new for me.”

continued on the next page…

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics. A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe. He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.