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Singer/songwriter and musician grew up surrounded by storytellers, now tells stories in her songs

Singer/songwriter and musician grew up surrounded by storytellers, now tells stories in her songs

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Following an accident in 2007 in which she was hit by a tractor then out of work for five months, Emily Stewart turned to writing and singing songs.

The singer/songwriter and musician is working on an album entitled “Blessing Hearts & Taking Names.” Her previous recordings are “1” and “Say What You Mean,” both EPs; and the single “Root to Heart.”

“I always tell people it’s folk, country, blues and roots,” Stewart said of her music.

She primarily plays the guitar and banjo but likes to mix things up by playing other instruments such as the ukelele, zhongruan, mandolin and dulcimer.

Stewart, who lives in Greensboro and is a graduate of Guilford College, has performed with several local groups and at venues in Winston-Salem and Greensboro.

Stewart is the owner of In Tune Reiki & Healing Vibrations in Greensboro. She mainly does Reiki, tuning fork therapy and intuitive tarot readings.

Q: How would you describe your art?

Answer: The first time I wrote a song and listened to the words come out of my mouth, I was shocked (and slightly alarmed, to be honest) by the downhome feel. I knew, of course, that I came from the Deep South, but somehow I never expected quite the level of twang that greeted my ears. They say that you sing with your childhood voice, and I guess I was only used to hearing myself sound that Southern after several hours on the phone with my mama.

In addition to the lowland south Alabama feel, many folks say they hear mountain influences in my singing and picking styles, which is probably a combination of Appalachian ancestors singing through me and the time I’ve spent in north Alabama and North Carolina. I’ve always resonated with folks from the hill country, and I love traveling to play in east Tennessee especially. I feel like I can share stories with those folks for hours at a time, and most of my songs are stories.

I grew up surrounded by storytellers — newspaper people — so that’s really the only way I know how to approach a song. I love going deep into a character’s psyche and relationships to explore their emotions. We’re all reflections of each other, and music has always been a healing practice for me, so I always try to write from a place of empathy, finding hope in the story wherever I can.

Q: How have you evolved as an artist?

Answer: When I first hit the stage, I was very inexperienced. I had been playing guitar for a few months after a tractor accident, and I felt like such a baby in comparison to all of these other talented musicians around me who had been playing for years. I ended up in the strange position of leading bands with very little experience, which taught me a lot about what it takes to do justice to a song. It took a really long time and years of playing the psychiatric unit solo at Wake Forest Baptist Health every week to get more comfortable playing by myself and experimenting outside of my “safe zone,” where I felt like I relied more on others to fill things out.

I think the enormous changes in the landscape of being a working musician since the pandemic hit have really accelerated that process. I’ve been forced to play solo a lot more, and I’ve been doing a weekly livestream on Facebook and Instagram called the “Sunday Serenade.” 

I have also been writing songs weekly on a deadline for the Monday Morning 3AM Music Club in Winston-Salem. 

Q: Who has influenced your art?

Answer: My parents played a huge role in getting me to write from a young age. They ran a newspaper with my grandfather in Monroeville, Ala., and I think they knew that I would not get everything I needed from the public schools there. They had me helping them edit copy from the time I was 8 years old and let me take over my brother’s weekly column called “From Our Files” when I was in the fourth grade so that he could start working on a weekly comic strip. The column was a reflection on events from 10, 20 and 30 years prior, and I distinctly remember arguing fervently with my mama about how the Piggly Wiggly Pig coming to town was way more newsworthy than the Junior Miss Pageant.

I grew up singing in church, but I really credit my childhood babysitter, Miss Lizzie Parker, for teaching me how to sing. At bathtime, she would fill the air with gorgeous a cappella gospel tunes that were probably far more cleansing for my soul than the bath itself. She passed away from COVID this year, and I will always try to reflect a piece of her in my music. I also listened to a lot of classic country growing up. 

Q: What is your biggest challenge?

Answer: Lately, the biggest challenge seems to be finding creative ways to thrive as a musician during a pandemic and stay sane. I rely on music not just for income, but also for my sanity, so it has been really helpful to keep a steady rhythm with weekly livestreams and the Monday morning 3 a.m. writing deadline.

Q: What does art do for you?

Answer: It’s a healing process. I began to explore creative writing as a natural instinct for coping with depression when I was younger and began writing and singing songs after getting hit by a tractor, which left me with a severe neck injury years later. Mentally, physically, and spiritually, I can’t imagine living without music. I also try to be a force in helping others transmute pain through music, which is essential now more than ever, particularly with the mental health pandemic growing every day.

Fran Daniel writes about artists — visual, musical, literary and more. Send your story ideas to fdaniel@wsjournal.com or call 336-727-7366.

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