It’s impossible to explain the exceptional talents of Emi Sunshine, a 11-year-old East Tennessee prodigy who has captured the nation’s attention as a singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. Steeped in Appalachian music, she is a true vocal stylist, one who instinctively knows how to interpret the nuances of a song with her impressive range. The Tennessean is just the latest to describe her as “an old soul,” noting, “Onstage, this soul’s presence is commanding and her singing voice authentic and folksy.” While her youth might remind many of Taylor Swift, a more apt comparison would be to artists such as Dolly Parton, Alison Krauss or members of the Carter Family.
Whether she’s performing on the Today show, the Grand Ole Opry or taking the stage at Nashville’s historic Ryman Auditorium, she is fearless, confident and firm in her musical direction. As she says, she sings “old-time music,” but it’s her own unique blend of roots music that is equal parts Americana, bluegrass, gospel, and country, with a little bit of blues thrown in for good measure.
Offstage, Emilie Sunshine Hamilton is a typical 10-year-old girl who loves video games, pets and colorful clothes. She’s had a normal upbringing in Madisonville, Tenn., where her mother worked as a nurse and her father is a recording engineer. But when she begins singing, playing or writing, something else takes over, a phenomenon that began before she could talk. As soon as Emi was old enough to walk down the aisle, she began singing in church. Her parents filled the house with music by Buddy Miller, Johnny and June Carter Cash and Emmylou Harris, and her musical tastes were formed. Those influences served as a foundation on which she built her own sound. “It’s kind of what came out,” she says of her sound. “I always loved that music and I thought, ‘That’s what I wanted to play. This is what I want to do.’”
Emi, who has a passionate following on social media, remains unaware of much of the whirlwind swirling around her. Her career moves will be dictated not by opportunities, but integrity. After coming off a year where many of her dreams came true, Emi is quickly creating new dreams and plans. But her ultimate goal remains the same: “I just want everybody to know who I am.”