HOLLYWOOD (Herald de Paris) — Mary Sarah started performing before she was in double digits, trying out Christian music and pop before discovering a more traditional country sound in Texas. She’s built up a strong social media following over the last few years, particularly on Twitter where she’s approaching 100,000 followers. She says with a smile, “I got to where I’m at through social media and miracles.”
She earned her break on Twitter – singing with country vocal quartet the Oak Ridge Boys at the Grand 1894 Opera House in Galveston. They approached her “out of the blue” on Twitter four years ago after seeing online clips of her performances, invited her to a show and gave her a slot onstage. She’s a regular guest when they perform in Texas. Her latest CD “Bridges” which is destined to be a country classic, features the Oaks singing with Mary Sarah on the 1979 hit “Dream On.”
“Mary Sarah holds the future of country music in her hands and within her soul. She is set to take the world by storm,” says Oak Ridge Boys member. Herald de Paris friend Joe Bonsall said, “She represents talent, beauty, American values and has a voice that soars like an angel.”
At just 18 years old, Mary Sarah has already sung a lifetime of country music. The proof is in “Bridges,” her impressive new collection of twelve duets with the legends and architects of country music. ”Bridges” features duets with their original performers including Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson on their well-known country songs. It also includes one of Ray Price’s final recordings before he died last year.The CD is now available on Cleopatra Records.
She was able to pull off the dream list of collaborators after meeting country singer-songwriter Freddy Powers, a close friend of Nelson and Haggard. Sarah, a Texas native, had performed throughout the Texas Opry circuit for years, mostly in Galveston and around Houston. She originally planned to record an album of covers from top Texas-based country singers.
“We took it to a couple people in Nashville and they said, `I don’t think you’re thinking big enough,’” said Sarah, who released the album independently on Tuesday. “The idea wasn’t to have a legends project. What it turned into is really crazy and mind-blowing.”
Mary eventually moved to Nashville, where she met Parton’s producer who then introduced her to the country diva. Other big names started rolling in. She said, “It was miracle after miracle that these artists did this on a handshake.”
The big-voiced teen had been recording the album for two years and she had kept the project “on the down low.”
The list of names of duet partners is stellar: Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Vince Gill, Tanya Tucker. Lynn Anderson and the late Ray Price are among those who, duly impressed and charmed by Mary Sarah’s voice, lent their own to the album.
It’s songs of that caliber that make up “Bridges,” from Haggard’s “The Fightin’ Side of Me” and Vince Gill’s “Go Rest High on That Mountain” to Parton’s “Jolene” and Tucker’s “Texas (When I Die).” “Mary Sarah is a beautiful young lady with a beautiful voice,” said Willie Nelson, who sang with the future star on his timeless ballad “Crazy.”
A disciple of classic country storytelling, Mary Sarah found a mentor in Freddy Powers, the songwriter behind such staples as Haggard’s “I Always Get Lucky with You,” as well as a friend to some of country’s biggest names. As executive producer of “Bridges,” Powers helped Mary Sarah assemble her duet partners and realize her dream: introducing “traditional” songs to a new audience.
The album is also a tribute of sorts to Freddy Powers, who is suffering from Parkinson’s disease. The final track, “All I Want to Do Is Sing My Song,” features Mary Sarah duetting with an old vocal track of Freddy’s. “I just wanted him on this album,” she says. “Freddy Powers took a chance on me and miracle after miracle, artist after artist, signed on.” Chief among them, Dolly Parton, who was the first to jump onboard. “When we sat down in the studio, I was shaking,” remembers Mary Sarah. “She walked in and I couldn’t believe it. I was about to sing ‘Jolene’ with Dolly Parton herself!”
At its core, Bridges is all about songs like “Jolene.” Whether performed by the artists who made them famous or an 18-year-old ingénue, the dozen tracks of the album are timeless compositions.
“I want to bring back just a little bit of the old country and let people know about these songs,” says Mary Sarah. “It’s what I love and I want to connect listeners to it.”
Sarah will reach even further territory audiences when she opens for Haggard on his tour starting in August.
Herald de Paris Deputy Managing Editor was introduced to Mary Sarah by good friend Joe Bonsall of The Oak Ridge Boys fame. I believe I have met the future of country music her name is Mary Sarah.
AC: Tell us about your family. When did you start singing? Is there anyone in the family who sings? What type of music did you listen to?
MS: My family is the best ever. I started singing at age eight at our church. My parents pastored a small congregation in Richmond, Texas. My dad was a high school band geek playing the saxophone and he self-taught himself guitar a couple years ago. He inspired me to pick up guitar at that time too!
AC: Tell us about growing up in church. Is this background helping you to cope with your phenomenal success?
MS: Wow, phenomenal is a big word. Yes, my faith is something I rely on every day. My family and I could have never imagined the course my life has taken. I am completely aware of Who is in charge and I am humbled. My faith reminds me daily that I have been given a gift for others to enjoy!
AC: You seem to be very good with New Media. Tell us what inspired you to put your music on Twitter.
MS: Social media has changed everything about the music business and I get so excited knowing its possible to reach someone across the world. It is a two-way street also. It has opened doors for me like with the Oak Ridge Boys and gives fans the opportunity to encourage me as I travel this road.
AC: I understand that you have over 100,000 followers. How does that feel? Do you do your own Tweets – are people really hearing from you?
MS: I try to Tweet as much as possible but social media can become a full time job and requires a team. When I was young my family did a great job of helping to lead me in the right direction with social media. Now I believe I have real true fans that are happy to keep up with where life and music are taking me. When I step in to a room to do a showcase, I honestly believe that all my social media fans are with me. It gives me strength to know some have followed me since my Kidz Bop days.
AC: What do you think of social media in general? Do you ever think you would be discovered if you didn’t go viral?
MS: I think social media is wonderful as long as it is used in a constructive way. It gives an artist the ability to put out what they want their fans to hear and see. Before it existed, you would only be heard if you made radio play. I think Patsy Cline and Tammy Wynette would have been huge on social media if it had been available in their day…they would have been viral for sure!
AC: Recently it seems the newest superstars are discovered on shows like American Idol and The Voice. What do you think of show like that? Did you try out?
MS: I tried out twice on The Voice but each time I opted out on going to LA. Just didn’t seem like the right time for me, but I will never rule anything out in the future. I think the biggest draw for me is that the mentors on the shows are amazingly talented and every artist can use the wisdom of the ones who have gone before them. I feel like I have received great wisdom in honoring the legends on “Bridges” but I know there is so much more to learn.
AC: Tell us the story about the Oak Ridge Boys? Joe Bonsall found you on Twitter – what happened? How has he helped you?
MS: They have helped me more than anyone could ever ask!!! I call them my “uncles in the biz.”
Joe Bonsall did catch me on YouTube and tweeted. He made us an offer to go to Galveston, see their rehearsal, dinner and the show. At the dinner table Joe asked if I could sing anything acapella. I stood up to sing at the table thinking he just wanted to know if I could really sing. He said, “Not here, I am going to put you on the show”. My parents about fainted. I sang “Where The Boys Are” and it was so scary but so great at the same time. An iPhone video was sent to a lot of the other artists which gave me great credibility in attracting more legends to the project. They have blessed me year after year in Galveston. I attended and performed on one of their cruises and I recently had my Ryman debut with them and Lynn Anderson as part of the Ray Price Tribute. Priceless.
AC: I understand you moved close to Nashville. Why the move and how do you like living out there? Do you miss Texas?
MS: I moved a little over two years ago and it has been an adjustment. It’s just like starting over but I welcome the challenge. I have learned so many things and I think I can say that after two years I am settled in. I don’t have to miss Texas because I am back there quite often. I love my Texas fans because they are the ones who supported me as a young teen in the opry’s. Texas will always be my home but Nashville is a close second.
AC: Who is Freddy Powers and how has he helped you? I understand that some of the proceeds of the CD will go to Mr. Powers who is battling Parkinson’s?
MS: I don’t know how I would tell you who Freddy Powers is, but I can tell you who he has been to me. He signed on to the project as executive producer through management and since then he and Catherine have been very close personal friends of mine and my family. He put his relationships on the line (Willie, Merle, Tanya, John Rich, etc.) asking for favor after favor of his friends to sing with me. I have never had someone put that much faith in me in my life. He has been battling Parkinson’s since I met him but we have had so many special moments together, like writing a song together at the Florabama. Freddy and Catherine are a modern day LOVE STORY that needs to be told. I have learned love in the true sense of the word watching her take such great care of him.
t is so special to me to have a track of Freddy’s that was recorded by Merle. All I Wanna Do Is Sing My Song was special because I have only heard Freddy whisper lyrics or whisper I love you. To be on that track with him is a blessing to me listening to his singing voice. It also speaks to my heart; all I wanna do is sing my song and he has given me that opportunity!
AC: What is it about old school country music that you enjoy? Why do you want to revisit the older music styles?
MS: The stories. The truth. You know they didn’t have this glamorous life riding around in limos, someone carrying their guitar and all the fuss of today’s stars. They are legends because they earned everything by doing so much themselves and they still do. They love the road too…that’s what I love!
I started singing traditional country because it was my only choice for performing in Texas besides charity or anthems. But I believe it was my destiny because I fell in love with the music and the people. My greatest fans in Texas are above the age of 50 and I am proud of it. I hope to say that all my fans love hearing this music again.
AC: Do you write your own music? What kinds of things do you like to sing about? Have you considered revisiting your gospel roots in a CD someday?
MS: Yes, I write and that all started at fourteen with five of the releases on Crazy Good. My first attempt to write country instead of pop. I am learning more and more everyday in Nashville. What I love is that I am a singer/performer first and I know that after all these years. I will always write/co-write because there is no other way to get “my truth” out there, but I have come to seriously appreciate true writers. They are so gifted and I would never turn away a song because I didn’t write it. That would be foolish. I have the opportunity to sing Christian and gospel songs often back at my home church in Texas. When I travel back I try to give my time by serving on the worship team when they need it. As far as recording a gospel Cd…never say never.It’s not where I am motivated at the moment.
On a final note, I mostly try to sing about things that inspire me and of course BOYS are a big part of a girl’s life at 19!
AC: Who are some of your favorite artists? Who do you have on your iPod? Any surprises?
MS: Of course the legends on the Bridges’ album and many other legends like Loretta Lynn. Of today’s country I lean towards Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert, LeeAnn Womak. The gentleman mostly influence me by their awesome guitar skill like Keith Urban, Eric Church, Brad Paisley and Hunter Hayes. I am very excited to see what Garth Brooks is going to do!
I think you would be shocked at what I have on my iPhone. I am no different from any teenager today. We all listen across the genres because we can. It was much more difficult to listen to a wide range of artist before, but today it’s possible so the influence is crazy good. I am drawn to big vocals so Katy Perry, Arianna Grande, Adele and many others including One Direction, Lorde, and Pharrell Williams. I also love John Legend!
AC: Tell us about meeting Dolly Parton. What is she like? I understand she was the first on board for your newest project. What advice has she given you?
MS: Dolly Parton is everything you see and hear. She is so real in person that you can’t help be so happy around her. She gave me great advice, especially about getting an education whether it is in the studio or in school, to pay attention and be myself. My knees still go weak thinking about that day in the studio. She was the first one on the project so that will always be special to me. What she has accomplished in her life is a testimony to her faith and her tenacity to leave a legacy for others. This is a very generous way to live and I consider her one of the greatest business women I have ever met.
AC: Tell us about “Bridges’ which is destined to be a major hit. You say the album was assembled miracle by miracle. What does that mean? The album is a compilation of duets with legends, Dolly, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Tanya Tucker, Lyn Anderson, Vince Gill and Ronnie Millsap…
MS: Miracle by miracle because we did not set out with a plan that listed exactly who would be on this album. Many of the songs were chosen because they were the songs I had been singing in Texas for years. The song determined many of the collaboration requests that were made and so it was a miracle to have so many say yes to the songs I loved. Dolly, Willie, Merle, Tanya and Lyn had songs that were my first songs sung in the Texas oprys. Vince and Ronnie? It just came down to gut feelings and agreements. Ronnie singing his hit has made a difference in my life and “Go Rest High” is one of Freddy’s favorite songs. Vince did it to bless Freddy.
AC: How has success changed your life? Is there a lot of stress? How do you cope? What is the best and worst of being famous?
MS: Well I don’t consider myself famous. There are far too many other well-known people than me. I like to focus on what the music can do in people’s lives. It’s no different than what these legends’ music has done for me…brought me to tears, joy or taught me a lesson. Music makes the world go around and I am just happy to be able to spread a little joy! I keep a lot of my family around me to keep me grounded and I love traveling with them. We have so much fun together!
AC: If you had one sentence to describe the type of artist you are, what would you say?
MS: I think I can answer that question in about ten years. Right now I am just a teenager navigating teen problems and opportunities brought my way through music. I know deep down I have staying power because my desire to sing/entertain has not changed since I started at eight.
AC: Do you prefer doing work in the studio or performing live better?
MS: I am learning to love the studio…but I love performing whether it is in front of one person or 70,000. It gets my heart pumping. Recently working on my new music makes me appreciate that in the studio I can have a lot of input on my sound. That excites me.
AC: What is the very best and the very worst performing experience you have had so far?
MS: Worst…my first piano/singing recital. My teacher started in the wrong key for “Yellow Rose of Texas” and I had to tell him to start over. Can’t believe I had the nerve to tell him in front of the audience because I was only eight.
Best? It is a toss-up between the Oaks in Galveston, Willie on the 4th of July, Kidz Bop Tour, the Ryman and the Bluebird. I just can’t list one over the other because they are all so special to me.
AC: Tell us about your plans for touring in support of the new album? What kind of a band are you putting together?
MS: A great band. They must be able to play and stay true to the traditional country and my new music as well. We are taking every opportunity to promote this album because we know what it will mean to Freddy. I have been out on radio tours and putting as much press attention on it as we can. It’s a very special album all the way around and I hope everyone on the album is proud of it.
AC: What kinds of hobbies do you have? Who are some of the people supporting you during this very exciting time?
MS: I play tennis, I am playing mandolin and will be picking up the violin after that. I have fallen in love with playing on stage…something I never saw coming when I was little. It challenges me and I love accomplishing something I never thought I could. You could say I am competitive with myself! LOL
AC: Do you have any plans to do any acting or TV talent work?
MS: When I was little I really thought I wanted to be on Disney. I spent some time in Los Angeles after the Kidz Bop Tour signed to a major kids agency, but it just didn’t agree with our family lifestyle. Being apart from my brother, sister and dad on the tour made me appreciate my family. If I was going to do this for the rest of my life it wouldn’t be because I sacrificed my family. I think if any opportunity came along with acting or TV, I would definitely take a good look at it. Dolly did and look where it got her!
AC: Who would you like to model your career after?
MS: The legends. Putting out great music, touring, giving back to the community and being a great role model. This popped out of my mouth on the radio tour and it was one of those moments that you know God gave you the words. I say, “I started out with the legends and I would love to finish my life as a legend.”
AC: What do you see yourself doing in ten years?
MS: Touring, starting a family, and being very thankful for following a dream.
AC: How can people know more about you and get a copy of your new CD?
MS: marysarah.com and I believe it is on iTunes, Amazon, Walmart, etc. All of this thanks to our wonderful label, Cleopatra Records!!! They have made it possible to get this CD in the hands of so many more fans and I am so thankful!