Jaelee Roberts: The Next Generation of Bluegrass

Rising star Jaelee Roberts honors tradition while carving out her own, unique musical path.
Jaelee Roberts: The Next Generation of Bluegrass
Bluegrass musician Jaelee Roberts from her official music video "Think Again." (Sandlin Gaither/Jaelee Roberts Music)
11/21/2023
Updated:
12/28/2023
0:00

At just 22 years old, Nashville bluegrass musician Jaelee Roberts has come full circle with her career. In September 2023, she made her solo Grand Ole Opry debut, a dream she had been chasing since she was a little girl dancing at festivals her musician-father was playing for. Though she can already check off this bucket-list item, like any other serious artist, she knows her work will never be done.

Ms. Roberts blends smooth, contemporary bluegrass sounds with traditional roots music she was raised on. Through this striking combination, she seamlessly marries past to present and creates a soulful musical experience as deep and wide-ranging as the Tennessee mountains near her Music City home.

The Beginnings

Ms. Roberts comes from a musical family, so it was only a matter of time before she picked up an instrument and learned her first songs. It happened pretty quickly too. By the time she was 4 years old she was already competing in the bluegrass genre’s longstanding tradition of fiddling competitions. She branched out from there and learned how to play guitar. When she was still just a teen, she was already singing and playing in full bands.
Jaelee Robert's father, Danny Roberts (center left), plays the mandolin for the American Bluegrass band "The Grascalls." (Larry Bunn/The Grascals)
Jaelee Robert's father, Danny Roberts (center left), plays the mandolin for the American Bluegrass band "The Grascalls." (Larry Bunn/The Grascals)
She was immersed in the music business from a young age. Her father, Danny Roberts, has long performed with Nashville’s notable bluegrass band, “The Grascals.” Her mother, also a musician, works behind the scenes as a booking agent and manager for many acts. Shortly after, Ms. Roberts opted for homeschooling so she could pursue music seriously, Andrea Roberts added her own daughter to the roster of talent she represents.

A Distinctive Sound Rooted in Tradition

Country icon Dolly Parton is one of Ms. Roberts’ biggest influences. Like Ms. Parton, she stays true to the musical origins of the genre she loves so much while carving out her own distinctive sound.

While she releases original music, one of the ways she honors bluegrass tradition is by covering some of her favorite gospel ballads. Her contemplative, spirited rendition of The Perrys’s 2014 “I Owe Him Everything” appears on her debut solo album, “Something You Didn’t Count On.” Released in 2022, the bluegrass record poignantly explores finding hope during troubled times and never giving up on love despite ups and downs.

The record boasts originals such as her popular contemporary bluegrass-country single, “Think Again,” as well as select gospel tracks. No matter the song, themes of faith and praise run throughout the compilation.

Chasing Lifelong Dreams

Portrait of Jaelee Roberts. (Before Charleston Photography/<a href="https://jaeleerobertsmusic.com/epk">Jaelee Roberts Music</a>)
Portrait of Jaelee Roberts. (Before Charleston Photography/Jaelee Roberts Music)

While working on “Something You Didn’t Count On” with her label Mountain Home Records, another opportunity came knocking. Critically acclaimed, fast-picking bluegrass group Sister Sadie was auditioning new talent to join their band. Ms. Roberts jumped at the chance. It took one audition for the group to bring her on board. Her versatile vocal abilities with angelic harmonies and captivating lead were exactly what they were looking for.

Before stepping onstage with Sister Sadie, Ms. Roberts took a second to appreciate the serendipitous moment; she'd spent a good portion of her childhood backstage at the Grand Ole Opry during her father’s performances, and now here she was.

The bluegrass group performed for a 75th anniversary celebration honoring the father of the genre, legendary Bill Monroe, and his revolutionary band “The Bluegrass Boys.”

Serendipity struck Ms. Roberts again when in the fall of 2023, she made her solo debut at the iconic venue to a full house and enthralled round of applause.

Since her musical journey began, Ms. Roberts, like her father, has picked up a few music awards of her own. Over the years, she’s won awards such as Vocalist of the Year at the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Momentum Awards. She also won Female Vocalist of the Year and Album of the Year at the 2023 Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music in America ceremony.

With awards like these, and an appearance on her award-winning album by iconic country crooner Vince Gill, one would think Ms. Roberts might take a break to savor the moment. But the rising star is just as hardworking as the bluegrass greats before her, so she’s not skipping a beat. When asked about her success thus far, she said, “It’s been a lifelong dream and I’ll never stop chasing it. I’ll keep chasing it until I can’t chase it anymore.”

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Rebecca Day is an independent musician, freelance writer, and frontwoman of country group, The Crazy Daysies.