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LEGENDS | Culture & Arts from the Cradle of American Music

© 2016 All rights reserved. Blue South Publishing P.O Box 3663 Meridian, MS 39303

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Child of Mississippi

The music of Emily White

 

Photography By Marianne Todd

 

 

A healthy crowd has gathered at The Sports Page, a hideaway night spot favored by Meridian locals for its good food and great music.

Sporting the only cowboy hat in the room, Emily White steps onto the stage and underneath the blue spotlight, slinging her guitar over her shoulder. She begins to sing. 

 

Sunburned noses and bare feet

Hand me down clothes and a fort made out of sheets

Splinters in our toes from climbing those pine trees

 

Running from bumble bees looking up at blue bird skies

Fishing with with cane poles, bottling up fireflies

Roasting marshmallows, skinny dipping at midnight.

 

The crowd begins to clap and cheer. They all know the next lyric and sing along in adulation. 

 

I am a child of Mississippi.

 

As a girl, Emily White didn’t keep a diary—she kept a guitar.

The newest buzz in Meridian’s music scene and beyond, White's voice has the syrupy soul of an old-school country singer, and she’s got the guitar picking skills and songwriting chops to match.

Like many musicians who got their start in a musical household, White's influence came from her mother, Angela White. “She used to play in Nashville all the time, and always has musicians and bands over at our house playing or practicing,” Emily says.

 

Like a lot of kids, she started out playing piano, but itched for a guitar. The family had moved from Quitman, Mississippi, to Georgia, when across the street from Emily’s house she got her first guitar for $30. 

 

“It was beat up, and the label was all scratched off, but I loved it,” Emily says. “I wasn’t older than 13, maybe even 12. I started transposing piano music to guitar right away, and started writing my own songs pretty soon after that.”

 

My magnolia memories, guiding me back home

I know I'll always be, no matter where I roam

I am a child of Mississippi 

 

“She had a keyboard in her bedroom and on that keyboard there were programmed songs that would light up and show her the keys,” says Angela. “She found an Elton John song and drove us nuts.

 

“But the guitar was like $30 or $40. And we got her some strings. It was my husband, Eddie, who said, 'She needs some lessons' and from then on it was bang, bang, bang … and within six months her teacher said he had taught her everything he could teach her.”

She advanced to her next guitar.

 

“They loved her voice, and she was cute as pie with the guitar, so we got her an Ibanez,” says Angela. Shortly after, Emily met and began studying under Wallace Reed, lead guitarist for The Marshall Tucker Band.

 

By the time she was 16, she was playing gigs every weekend. Now that she’s back in Meridian, people are listening. 

 

Sunday morning church pews, picnics on the ground

The call of the whippoorwill, when the sun goes down

Tire swings and sweet tea, southern treasures I have found 

Potholes and country roads, catching tadpoles in the stream

Tangled hair and muddy toes, and patches on our jeans

I hear that mockingbird, singing his song to me.

 

These days every experience feels like a song to her. 

 

“The moment I came back home that's the song that flowed out of me,” Emily says, referencing her soon to be released  “Child of Mississippi.”  It connects me to everyone else in the South. They can grasp on to at least one of the verses in there.”

 

The song is one of eight to be featured on the CD that will bear the name of its title song. “We've done about four songs, and we're about half way through. Only one song, “Early Monday,” is a cover. The rest were written by White, about “heartbreak, the heat in the South, coming back home, growing up, and gossip. It's everything about a small town,” she says.

 

Guitarist John Fera is featured on the album and says White's reputation preceded her. 

“I finally caught one of her solo gigs. Being a young singer-songwriter, I was hoping for good songs and a good voice – not really expecting much on the guitar beyond basic chords to support the song,” he says. “But her guitar skills were killer, in addition to the writing and the singing. All that, and she’s totally relaxed, and has great rapport with the audience. The whole package.”

 

Since meeting her, Fera has become a family friend, performing with her often and now recording several original tunes in the studio. 

 

“Not surprisingly, she’s a pro in there, too,” he says. “We do several takes of each song, and she usually nails every take. She’s also open to ideas from the band, which makes it even more fun. It’s been a blast to work with her.”

 

After living in Georgia for 11 years, she returned this year at the age of 23, to Meridian. Her family had moved back to Mississippi, just outside of Meridian, and she followed, hoping to break a spell of writer’s block. As soon as she set foot on her home turf, the block began to lift. 

 

“You never stop writing,” she says. “A lot of people say this, but it’s true: the best songs flow out of you in 20 minutes, scrawled on napkins at bars. Some take years to perfect. Sometimes it takes breaking a bunch of things and smashing them together. You can’t be afraid of that, if you’re going to be a song writer.”

 

She was readily welcomed into Meridian's community of musicians.

“It’s like a little Nashville,” she says. “Meridian is booming with talent.”

Emily said she hopes to release her CD by the end of summer. She’s an independent artist, and hasn’t released an album since she was 16.

 

“I want it to be perfect.” 

Also appearing with her are Atlanta's Steve Wilkerson and Meridian's Bill Pippin of The Louisiana Hayride, both on keyboards; Meridian recording tech Clay Barnes on bass (who also did the mix) and Stone Senate drummer David Zettler.

 

“As a fellow child of Mississippi  it does my heart good to hear someone of such immense talent able to convey both the richness of our culture along with the simple things that make it such a wonderful place to grow up,” Wilkerson said. “Emily White is everything that also makes Mississippi great … beautiful, talented, and has only the sky for a limit.”

 

For Zettler, transitioning from hard rock  to a more stripped down feel is a natural move for him.

“I’m from Virginia, but I’ve lived in Mississippi since I was 5,” Zettler says. “I guess that makes me a Mississippi boy.” 

 

Like Fera, Zettler had heard Emily’s name around Meridian. When he finally saw her play live, it was at an event with a lot of other musicians playing, too. He could tell right away she was a total package musician, somehow reminiscent of traditional country music, but new at the same time.

“She puts rhythm and vocals together in a way that most people don’t, and it works for her,” he said. “There’s a lot of good players in this town, and a lot of big name people have come out of here. She’s got all the potential in the world. She doesn’t sound like the stuff on the radio, and she’s well-respected by the scene here.”

 

In 10 years? “It depends on where the road is going to take me,” she says. “When someone goes into the music industry, they don't do it for the money. They do it for the love of it. And if this road takes me into the limelight, that's great. But I'm not doing it for the fame, but because people identify with my music. That's the biggest goal.”

 

In the meantime, she has a CD to release.

“I’m excited to put this album out,” White says. “It's about coming home, about small towns and the heat, my God, the heat.” 

 

I am child of Mississippi.

My magnolia memories, guiding me back home

I know I'll always be, no matter where I roam

I am a child of Mississippi.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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