Clare Sukley's Blue Ridge inspired music

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When Clare Sukley, now a 13-year-old religious education student at Our Lady of the Blue Ridge Church in Madison, was 8, Nashville stole her heart.

After the whirlwind of the CMA Music Festival - a weekend-long celebration of country music with performances from headliners like the Zac Brown Band - Sukley decided to pursue singing more seriously.

Already involved in her parish children's choir, Sukley began guitar lessons with Mike Vison, a music teacher who gave lessons at a local Episcopal parish and now teaches at the Blue Ridge School in St. George.

"Learning guitar was a natural choice because it helps with singing," said Sukley, nodding to the singer/songwriter tradition of picking up a guitar and belting out a tune on the spot.

Soon, singing classics like "Silent Night" with her older sister Frances at Christmas Mass and other church events became a tradition. And day by day, week by week, Sukley's love for music blossomed into a calling that revealed itself over the past year.

After an impromptu performance at a birthday bash last March, Sukley found herself fronting the girl group, The Blue Ridge Heartbreakers. The performance was so popular, Sukley said, that starting a band "just felt right."

The band is made up of all Christian girls who know each other from public school. Sukley and her sisters, Frances and Kati, are Catholic; Thea Robertson is Episcopalian; and Lily and Emily Dodson are Baptist. The Blue Ridge Heartbreakers perform everywhere and anywhere, from neighborhood parties to church picnics. This month, the girls celebrated the band's one-year anniversary.

When not performing with The Blue Ridge Heartbreakers, Sukley performs solo, both at church and in local events like Culpeper Has Talent.

"Clare has had a solid faith formation from her parents and is very knowledgeable in her Catholic faith," said Sukley's CCD teacher, Kathy Chada, who has known Sukley since she was 5 years old. "She has always been a sweet girl who put others ahead of herself … I am excited for the opportunity she has had to showcase her passion and her talent at Culpeper Has Talent." 

Sukley performed in the second annual talent show at the State Theatre in Culpeper March 28, competing against nine other acts from Culpeper, Madison and Orange counties. Acts ranged from 13-year-old Agon Misliu belting out "La Vie en Rose" to three-piece band, J-Town, rocking out with a medley of 70s favorites.

Because she was voted into the final round as a fan favorite for her YouTube videos, Sukley had the least time to prepare for the competition - two weeks versus four. Judges chose nine out of the ten finalists at the Feb. 28 semifinals and asked the community to select the tenth act by casting their votes online.

Sukley sang two country songs: "Heads Carolina, Tails California" by Jo Dee Messina and "Wasted" by Carrie Underwood.

Though Sukley did not place that night, judges encouraged her to come back next year, perhaps with her band. She and the other finalists were given trophies for participating in a competition that has garnered nearly 9,000 Facebook likes.

Sukley attributes her continued success in music to her teachers, sisters and bandmates, but is especially grateful for the support of her parents, Karl and Deb Sukley.

"I have to remember that I'm not doing this for myself," said Sukley after the competition. "I'm doing this for God."

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© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015