Local singer invited to CMA music festivalPublished 12:05am Sunday, June 16, 2013
NATCHEZ — Local country singer Hannah Belle Southerland is, in her own words, just a simple little country girl.
“I’ve never said anything truer than that,” the 24-year-old Red Lick native said.
A farm full of cows, chickens and even a pot-bellied pig is where she’s from, but the stage is where she belongs.
Southerland has been performing on stage since she was 3 years old, mostly with her family at church.
“My dad is a preacher, so we’ve always had access to a stage,” she said. “We had a little family band.”
But Southerland has come a long way since shaking a tambourine and singing on the stage at church.
She will begin recording her third album on independent label Freedom Entertainment at Funhouse Studios in Nashville in July. Southerland is managed by Ernie Rowell, who served for years as George Jones’ band leader.
And Southerland was recently chosen as an emerging artist for the Country Music Association’s annual CMA Music Festival in Nashville, which was June 6-9.
To be chosen as an emerging artist, musicians have to apply then meet the criteria outlined by the CMA. Some of the criteria include having songs that make the charts, 5,000 Facebook fans, radio play, music videos, just to name a few.
“They really check every aspect of you out,” Southerland said. “They make sure you’re their kind of people.”
This year’s festival was the first time Southerland attended as an emerging artist, but not the first time she has tried.
“This was the third year I applied,” she said. “Every year you send in a check and an application, and if you don’t get chosen, they send that check back to you. This year when they sent the letter saying I had been chosen, the envelope looked just like the ones before. I thought, ‘Oh great, they sent my check back again this year.’”
Attending CMA Fest as an emerging artist was an incredible experience, Southerland said, especially meeting fans.
“I think I took more pictures and signed more autographs there than I have in my entire life,” she said.
And Southerland fit right in with the thousands of country music fans at the festival because she is a lifelong fan herself.
Country music is what Southerland says she was born to write and sing.
“I can’t sing anything else but country music with this accent,” she said, laughing and drawing out her Southern accent.
But a serious look comes over her face when Southerland reveals a deeper reason.
“It’s just what flows through my veins,” she said. “I can’t get away from it.”
And neither does she want to, Southerland says.
“Growing up in the country has really taught me life is what you make it,” she said. “You don’t have to be living in the city going 90-to-nothing. You can sit back and enjoy what you have here on the Earth because life is short.”
That “sit back and relax” country sentiment inspired Southerland’s song “Things People in the City Just Don’t Know.”
“It’s about waking up and hearing roosters crowing and going to the fishing hole and spending all day fishing and being away from it all,” Southerland said.
Perhaps the most beloved Southern pastime — sitting on a porch — gave rise to Southerland’s song “Porchin’ It.”
“It’s just about hanging out and pulling up a chair on the porch, having some face-to-face contact with people and really enjoying the simplicity of life,” Southerland said.
Southerland’s success so far has not made her forget her roots. Those roots are what have inspired her to write about her life, whether it’s songs about a broken heart or the shining example of a marriage from her parents, the Rev. Paul and Marlene Southerland.
Southerland says she also gets a lot of support from her brother, Les, and sister, Robin. Southerland writes many of her songs with her sister.
“She’s my best friend,” she said.
Some CMA Festival-goers had heard Southerland’s songs, and some had never even heard of her at all.
“People would stop by and check out my music and would say ‘You know, I think you’ve got something, so I’m going to meet you now so in a few years I can say I knew back when.’
“And I think some people thought since my booth was back-to-back with Alan Jackson’s that ‘Wow, she must really be somebody,’” Southerland joked.
“Being somebody” is all relative to Southerland, a 2011 Mississippi College graduate who will be joining Adams County Christian School as an English teacher. Southerland is on the radio on 104.7 and 107.1 and keeps busy working on her master’s degree.
An eventual Female Vocalist of the Year nomination would be nice, though, Southerland says.
“But I don’t have to be that person,” she said. “I like to sing, and I like to song-write, and I like to influence people in a positive way. That’s my goal with my music.
“I don’t have to make it to the big time. If it’s God’s will, that’s where I’ll end up.”