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By Paul Lonardo
For eighteen year-old Gracelyn Rennick of Lincoln, music first became a part of her life at the age of 9 when out of the blue she decided she wanted to learn to play guitar.
Gracelyn’s mother, Michelle, hesitated at her youngest child’s request, wanting to be sure that this was not just a passing whim. Gracelyn taught herself to play a couple of songs on a secondhand guitar and convinced her mother that she was serious. She stuck to it for about three years, taking lessons and practicing, until she suddenly became ill.
When Gracelyn was 12 she was vaccine injured after being inoculated for the HPV (human papillomavirus), which is mandatory for students entering middle school. At that time, some underlying illnesses surfaced after the vaccination, putting any musical aspirations on hold.
“After I got sick, I just put my music aside,” Gracelyn says. “I didn’t want to do it anymore. I didn’t want to do anything.”
This was a difficult period in her life, lasting several years and keeping her from doing a lot of the things she enjoyed. She had to be homeschooled in the eighth and ninth grades. As she slowly started to get better, her mom, looking for an activity for Gracelyn, signed her up for a songwriting class.
Michelle had seen how Gracelyn, who had always been naturally engaging and outgoing, changed after the illness, and she wanted her daughter to get involved in some new experiences.
“At the time she had no intention of ever learning how to write a song,” Gracelyn’s mother, Michelle, says. “I just thought it would be a cool class for her to take and to explore the possibilities.”
The course was offered through Rising, a Rhode Island-based organization that provides instruction and mentorship to teens, young adults and any aspiring songwriters who want to compose and perform music. Gracelyn, 14 at the time, was far from keen on the idea. She told her mother that she didn’t sing and she wasn’t interested in taking the class, to the point of tears. Her mom insisted that she give it a chance.
“I hated it at first,” Gracelyn says. “I wasn’t about to sing in front of people. There’s no way I’m going to do that.”
The power of a mother’s intuition proved keen when Gracelyn picked up her guitar for the first time in a couple years and began playing again, writing a song to boot.
“It was very surprising to me,” she says, “because I was dead set against it in the morning, and by the end of the day I had a song.”
Rising provided a stepping-stone for Gracelyn. They incorporated a number of young students to do shows together, taking turns or performing in the round, so she was not necessarily on the stage by herself. This made it easier for her to gradually get her confidence back so she could play in front of an audience on her own.
“I didn’t want to do my first show because I was terrified,” Gracelyn says. “But once I did it, and I started to do a couple more with Rising, it all started to come back to me. When I was younger I did a lot of acting, performing in front of people, and I wasn’t afraid to do it, until I got sick. But once I got back into it, I think all my confidence came back and it got easier for me to do shows.”
Rising helped Gracelyn book her shows for more than a year before she started to find her own shows, eventually finding herself sharing the stage with top national acts. She has appeared at Manchester 65, a live performance venue in West Warwick, where she opened up for Lee DeWyze of American Idol, Howie Day and Chuck Ragan.
“That was the start of me doing shows that were at a venue,” Gracelyn says, “and not at coffee shops and places like the Scituate Farmers Market. And ever since then, it’s just progressed.”
It certainly has progressed for Gracelyn. Just four years later, she wrote and recorded, Like The Stars, for which she won Song of the Year, in the pop/contemporary category, at the biggest indie music awards show, the 2016 Josie Music Awards. This past September, Gracelyn traveled with her mom to Nashville, Tenn., where she received the honor on stage at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center. The Josie organization is known for its support of Indy artists of all ages and genres.
While equally surprised and delighted by such an accomplishment, Gracelyn was proud and thankful for everyone who made it all possible, starting with her family. The experience was something she will never forget, but she also learned something about herself and her music that she had not been aware of previously. When Gracelyn wrote Like The Stars, she did not think it pertained to her, at least not directly.
“I just thought it was something that I made up,” she says. “But the more that I analyzed it, and the more that I analyze my own songs, and this happens a lot, even now, I realize that I do write about my life. I don’t have the intention of writing songs about myself, it just happens that way.”
Gracelyn considers herself a singer-songwriter, with her music being somewhere in between country and pop, a little folksy, with indie-pop probably being the best way to describe it.
“I don’t write my songs for any one particular genre of music,” Gracelyn says. “I just write them and they come out how they come out.”
Gracelyn plans to pursue a music career, and even though she writes her own music, she says she could be very happy performing songs written by someone else.
“My favorite part of doing this is performing, singing and playing.” Gracelyn says. “I guess the ultimate goal is to make it in the music industry, become famous and move to LA, and all that, but for right now it’s about building a fan base and getting myself out there and more recognized.”
Gracelyn knows how much hard work and determination that requires, and she is not misleading herself in that regard. With her talent and drive, as well as the support of her family, there is only one direction for her to go, and that is up.
To find out more about Gracelyn Rennick and where she will be performing, visit gracelynmusic.com