GREENWOOD SPRINGS – Leah Rose Duncan has been mumbling tunes since before she could talk. Adding to that, she used to get in front of the TV screen at home when “American Idol” was on and perform for her parents, stealing the spotlight from notable artists in the making.
The 18-year-old Smithville High School graduate is hopeful to have her due time in the spotlight as a singer-songwriter, and three Josie Music Award nominations are a good step in that direction.
“I was a little shocked. I’ve had a lot of people say they like my songs and think they’re good, but for Josie to recognize you… She has a lot of connections in Nashville and Pigeon Forge,” she said.
The annual Josie Music Awards is part of the Josie Network LLC brand, which is owned by Josie Passantino and Tinamarie Passantino. The awards spotlight independent artists in genres ranging from blues to rap to metal to country.
Leah is nominated for Rising Star Vocalist of the Year, Modern Country Song of the Year and Video of the Year. Overall, there were 23,000 applications for the Josie Music Awards, which is the world’s largest awards show to celebrate independent artists.
The awards ceremony will be held Sept. 21 in Dollywood’s Celebrity Theater in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.
A guitar riff she wrote when she was 13, “Good Old Days,” earned her the nominations. Like many of the 100-plus songs in her catalog, she co-wrote it with her father, Robert, and it was inspired by a daytrip to where he grew up in Detroit, Alabama.
“I told her about all the things I did when I was younger, and she said, ‘Let’s write a song about it.’ She showed me the guitar lick she wrote. She wrote it when she was 13, and that lick set the tone for the song.”
The single was released last August, and the video, released last December, was filmed in North Carolina.
The nominations add to an already impressive musical run. In 2014, she performed with alternative music artist Jack White and Lorrie Carter Bennett, niece and Johnny and June Carter Cash, at Livingston, Alabama’s Sucarnochee Revue. She has since performed at singer-songwriter festivals, music venues, open mic nights and benefit shows.
“If you give, God’s going to give back,” she said of performing at benefit shows.
Playing a benefit show in Memphis for a sick 1-and-a-half-year-old child led to an invitation to play at Darryl Worley’s annual Tennessee River Run at Pickwick Lake Labor Day weekend. Performing with 7 Days for the Troops in Tupelo led to an invitation to perform with the concert series in Jackson, Texas and South Carolina.
“You hear about a lot of wounded veterans who can’t get health care, and that’s who we need to do something for,” she said, adding her father and former guitar teacher, Johnny Frank Turman of Amory, are veterans.
The more she performs, the more networking she does with people in the industry, and the Josie Music Awards is going to be another opportunity. There will be a pre-party, red carpet event and after-party with several music industry representatives.
She said the nominations led to her music video being sent to the senior producer of “American Idol.”
The sound of her life
Following the April 27, 2011 tornado, which happened when she was in fifth-grade, Leah’s parents decided studying music may be a good way to get her mind off the devastation and change in Smithville.
She started taking lessons from Kit Thorn for a short time before Turman saw her perform at a Relay for Life event in Amory and said he wanted to work with her. He ultimately became a grandfather figure in her life.
“A few times we would play for four hours, go eat and play for another four hours,” she said. “He taught me tabs, chords, theory and even Irish jigs to teach my fingers dexterity.”
Although she hasn’t had much life experience to add to her songs’ inspiration, tragic events a couple of years after the tornado prompted her to write her first song.
“It was another bad year for me. Two of my grandparent passed away and a puppy I had was attacked and killed by another dog. I went to my room one day and cried and wrote “Nothing Is the Same.” I wrote it about the puppy, and it turned out to be a lot of emotions from that year.”
As her music flourished, she began working with Judy Rodman of Nashville, who won the Academy of Country Music’s Top New Female Vocalist Award in 1986.
As far as her shows, she mixes her originals along with covers of artists such as Miranda Lambert, Jason Aldean and Carrie Underwood into her setlists. Her parents said they’re also trying to improve equipment to add to the stage presence.
“We don’t have a living room. It’s actually a stage show,” said her mother, Michelle.
You can check out Leah’s music at www.leahroseofficial.com and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.