Samantha Casey’s dad plays the banjo, and both her parents sing. They taught her to sing harmony around the house as a little child. Her mother learned to clog in high school and played the banjo in college but gave it up when she had children. Her great uncle (on her father’s side) played the fiddle. Samantha actually played his fiddle, one which originally belonged to Samantha’s great-grandfather, for a few years before she got her own.
Her father, Daniel, started playing the banjo as a teenager, and he played professionally with The Shady Grove Band based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, for five years in the late 1980s/early 1990s. Later he played with local bands, including Roby Huffman & The Bluegrass Cutups, before forming a band with Samantha.
Music was definitely a huge part of Samantha’s childhood.
19 year old Samantha takes up the story …..
“Bluegrass has been in my family since the very beginning. My parents met when my mom decided to take clogging lessons in high school (my dad played banjo and was on the traveling team for the Buck Swamp Kickin’ Cloggers). When my parents were first married, he was the banjo player for The Shady Grove Band, touring the USA and travelling to Europe three times. Both of my parents loved the music and frequently hosted pickin’ parties. My dad left the band to re-open our family’s garden center a few years before I was born.
My mom used to dance with me as a baby to Alison Krauss, and my dad would play banjo to my baby carriage. During car rides we would listen to cassette tapes of The Bluegrass Album Band, Skaggs and Rice, The Lonesome River Band etc.”
Mum, Judy, speaks of her daughter’s apparent first inclinations and explains how Samantha got her first fiddle …
“We have video of me holding Samantha right after she was born. I held her hands and said, ‘These fingers were made for fiddling.’ Thus, we entitled her first CD (at age 10), Born to Fiddle.
When Samantha was two, Daniel bought a ¼-sized fiddle for her just in case she showed an interest in learning to play. She definitely showed an interest! She would hold that fiddle for hours, standing next to Daniel at bluegrass festivals, as if she were jamming too.”
Samantha resumes …..
“My parents taught me to sing three-part harmony around the house and we would have music time almost every night. I started fiddle lessons at the age of five from a family friend, Jan Johansson, in Cary, North Carolina. I would have a lesson every other Friday; my mom and I called them Fiddle Fridays. A year later, I learned my first song by ear (Old Joe Clark) so I could jam with the grown-ups at an upcoming bluegrass festival. I started performing with my Dad when I was seven years old. Our first show was for our local Shrine Club, and soon we started playing for more civic organizations, churches, retirement homes, bluegrass festivals, concerts and street fests.”
Jan Johansson remembers well ….
“I have known Samantha’s parents – Daniel and Judy – since before she was born. I remember one day at a gig in Selma, North Carolina, Judy told me she was pregnant and that I could expect a new student in a few years. Her first lesson was the week of September 11, 2001.”
Those fiddle lessons continued for four years. Samantha wanted to learn, so she practiced daily. It helped that she could practice playing fiddle with her father who played the banjo or guitar with her. When not performing, the family went to bluegrass concerts, festivals and pickin’ gatherings to give Samantha as much opportunity as possible to hear other bands and to play with other musicians. Along the way her parents took her to a few fiddle workshops with Bobby Hicks, “and she really enjoyed those”, adds her mum.
To back-track a bit, mum adds ….
“She began performing when she was seven years old. She and Daniel did numerous duo shows. As she progressed, she would join Roby Huffman & The Bluegrass Cutups on stage for a song or two. Samantha always loved the stage, and performing with a full-band was fun. We soon added a guitar player and bass player to her band, Samantha Casey & The Bluegrass Jam.”
A landmark event took place when Samantha was 11 years old …….
“………. my mom found out about the Oreo Jingle Contest and my dad and I ended up winning it with our bluegrass version of the jingle. It was such a fun experience!”
Her mum elaborates ….
“In the spring of 2007, I saw a promo online for Nabisco’s National Oreo & Milk Jingle Contest. The contest was for contestants to put their own spin on the Oreo Jingle. We all thought it might be fun to try. We got the fiddle and guitar out in the kitchen one night and came up with a bluegrass version of the Oreo Jingle. One afternoon Samantha and Daniel dressed up in Oreo Colors – Blue/White. We set up a table in our back yard with Oreos and milk on it, and we recorded their bluegrass Oreo Jingle. We sent the VHS tape to Nabisco and about a month later learned we were in the top ten in the country. The top ten videos in the country were then voted on to see who would progress to the top five. We had tremendous local support!!! Radio stations, TV stations and newspapers. . .so many of them. . .all interviewed Samantha! We had support from local churches and schools as well as audiences at her shows. After the voting concluded, we learned we were in the top five in the country. Nabisco flew us to New York City, and Samantha and Daniel competed with the other four finalists in Times Square Studio. There were several judges. Carson Daly was the celebrity judge. Samantha and Daniel WON the contest! So she is the 2007 National Oreo and Milk Jingle Contest winner.”
Samantha quickly became a seasoned fiddle player well-accustomed with the recording studio …
“Our band, Samantha Casey & The Bluegrass Jam, has recorded three CDs (I was age 10, 12 and 15 when they were recorded) and performed throughout eastern North Carolina. Toward the end of my high school career we were playing around 50-60 shows per year. Playing music has been such a blessing to my family and me! Some of my fondest memories are those of late-night jam sessions or band practices at our house.”