Singer/Songwriter AJ Lee Breaks the Bluegrass Mold

19-year-old singer-songwriter, AJ Lee is making a name for herself in the somewhat male-dominated field of Bluegrass music, and shows no signs of slowing down now. Having recently been named as Best Female Vocalist by Northern California Bluegrass Society for the seventh year in a row, AJ Lee now releases her self-titled album to great acclaim. AJ spoke to us about her career, her passion for music and her goals for the future.

Congratulations on your recent album. How did you choose the songs for AJ Lee

It was really a collective effort. I worked with the producer Jon Abrams on this album, and we picked songs that I’d sung before that had gotten great responses from the audience. We also chose several songs that melded together well with these audience favorites.

Photo by Tammi Coombs

What is it that drew you to Bluegrass music in the first place? 

My mother comes from a very musical family. She’s been involved with music for years. My introduction to bluegrass happened when I was four-years-old. My mom took me to an open mic event at a local pizzeria. She brought me up to the microphone and I sang “Angel Band.” There happened to be a man there that night who was the director of a program called Kids on Bluegrass for the California Bluegrass Association (CBA). He invited me to perform with them at festivals, and to this day, I am still friends with some of the kids from that program.

Are there any singers/songwriters you look up to that inspire your own voice and songwriting? 

Country and Christian singer, Sonya Isaacs of the family band The Isaacs. Her tone and soul are really inspiring. It’s so captivating to see her passion for her music.

What do you hope listeners will take away from this recent album? 

I hope listeners will be able to feel what each of the songs is meant to make that person specifically feel. I hope that I am presenting the music in a way that will allow listeners to take something positive away from the songs.

What is your favorite aspect of being a singer/songwriter?

I really enjoy having the opportunity to sing with other people. It’s so much fun. You can connect with people in a deeper way through music. It’s all about this emotional connection that the music creates.

Do you see yourself still pursuing your music passions years from now? 

I will continue to pursue writing and singing. There are so many options to continue with this. I want to be recognized as a successful singer and songwriter. It’s a passion for me and I hope I can continue to develop these talents.

Outside of Bluegrass, what are your other hobbies? 

I recently took up surfing when I moved to Santa Cruz. The weather is so nice here all the time, so it’s fun to grab a bunch of friends and go surfing when we can. Drawing and taking walks are other things I enjoy to do when I’m not writing songs or singing.

Since this is a magazine about women who inspire us, what do you think makes a woman inspiring? 

I think it’s really inspiring to see the strides that women are making in Bluegrass. It’s been a male-dominated genre for years. Even the pitches and tones are based off of male pitches. It’s hard for women to have a prominent voice here and it’s great to see women now being recognized for their talents in Bluegrass. There is an organization called The Handsome Ladies, which was created by women to support and promote other women in bluegrass. I’m excited to become involved in their efforts.

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