Strong female musicians influenced Claire Holley's road to becoming a singer-songwriter. While the Jackson native began singing as early as age 2, her jazz pianist grandmother, Olivia Chamblin, insisted on piano lessons for Holley and her sister Beverly. Holley also remembers the music teacher at her church, Marion Ware, with great fondness, speaking of her "contagious" enthusiasm and love for music.
Later, after hearing the 1974 country bluegrass instrumental record "The Atkins-Travis Traveling Show"—a favorite of her parents when she was in sixth grade—Holley replaced the strings on her father's guitar with steel ones in an attempt emulate the music that moved her so deeply.
Holley's love of music, and especially the guitar, followed her to the Midwest when she began attending Wheaton College, located just outside of Chicago. While there, she began writing songs and performing locally. The literature major even managed to weave the classics into her music, setting a William Blake poem to music with encouragement from a professor.
After college, Holley and her husband, Chad Holley, moved to North Carolina on a whim with no jobs or even a place to stay. After settling there, Holley eventually began performing in Chapel Hill, Raleigh and Durham. With the help of record producer John Plymale, she released her independent debut album, "Night Air" in 1997. She went on to release an album of hymns titled "Sanctuary" in 1999, and a self-titled album on Yep Roc Records in 2001.
In 2003, Holley and her husband moved cross-country to Los Angeles. They still reside there with sons Jack, age 9, and Nate, age 5. Since the move, Holley's music has been featured in a documentary, three short films, a television show titled "Men In Trees" and a play by Arlene Hutton titled "See Rock City," which garnered her a nomination for best original music by the LA Weekly Theatre Awards in 2006.
To date, Holley has released six albums and two EPs. She considers herself first and foremost a singer-songwriter. While commonly described as a folk singer, she does not categorize her singing into any specific style, preferring to open herself to inspiration from all types of musical genres.
"I like trying different things and working with different people and bringing out different things (in the music)," Holley said. "It's not really about style. It's about getting the right players. People I trust, that I'm comfortable with, that I like."
Today, April 24, Holley visits her home state for the event "An Evening with Claire Holley and Friends: Celebrating Eudora" at The Cedars (4145 Old Canton Road). Fondren Renaissance Foundation and the Welty Foundation are sponsoring the event. The event will feature a photography exhibit, bourbon tasting and Southern-style barbeque. Holley previously performed on behalf of the Welty Foundation at the Eudora Welty Centennial Celebration in April 2009 alongside fellow singer-songwriters Kate Campbell, Caroline Herring and Mary Chapin Carpenter.
Holley does not travel with a band, instead enlisting local musicians from the areas where she is set to perform. Today's concert will be no exception, as she plans to have three area musicians accompanying her.
Holley is currently working on songs for her next album, which she anticipates releasing in summer 2015. Upcoming shows through the end of April include concerts in Memphis, Tenn., and Russellville, Ark., as well as a Birthplace Sessions performance filming in Tupelo on the front porch of Elvis Presley's childhood home.
"An Evening with Claire Holley and Friends" starts at 6:30 p.m. with doors opening at 6 p.m. Tickets are $30 and may be purchased online at ardenland.net. For more information on Claire Holley, including her music and a schedule of upcoming appearances, visit claireholley.com.