Ashley Monroe gets her country vocals naturally. Her paternal grandfather was first cousins with Carl Smith, a Country Hall of Fame Singer known as "Mr. Country." He was also June Carter's first husband. But Ashley has created her own sound as a singer, songwriter and musician, crossing genres and even touring with Jack White.
With every note, you can hear, even feel Ashley Monroe's soulful Appalachian spirit. Not only has it set her apart, it's attracted country music's elite from Willie Nelson to Vince Gil.
"I just appreciate that it is a gift and I'm able to make a living using it and meet really amazing heroes along the way," said Ashley.
She's come a long way since her WBIR debut as a very young teen. Then it was only a dream.
Music is all Ashley's ever known.
"I always sang ever since I was a little bitty girl."
Her life started out very simple in the small town of Corryton.
"A lot of my family lived on the same road growing up. It was ideal, it was wonderful."
And, most childhood days were filled with music.
"I would just go up in my room and play classical piano for hours and hours."
When she wasn't playing, Ashley was listening to Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, the Eagles and of course Sevierville native Dolly Parton.
"I used to dress up like her. People will say, 'You sound like Dolly.' I didn't ever like try to copy her or anything like that. I think there's something in the blood around here, you know that Appalachian blood that's got a little lonesome in it."
At age 13, life as she knew it stopped. Ashley's dad passed away.
"My heart was so heavy."
Ashley started writing songs to get through each day.
"And, these songs would just come to me in my sleep."
Eventually, Ashley found clarity in the pain and realized she and her mom had to leave the sadness behind.
"I told her (mom) 'let's take care of each other and start over.'"
So, they moved to Nashville. And, even though they didn't know a soul, Ashley was discovered shortly after. She credits her late father's guidance.
"I feel like he had a hand in saying, 'no, no, stay away from there' and 'yes, meet this person,' you know."
And what a journey it's been. Ashley put it to words this year in her second studio album and title track "Like a Rose" produced by Vince Gil.
In addition to her solo career, Ashley's also a member of the female trio "Pistol Annies" with Miranda Lambert and Angaleena Presley.
"It was such a good accident really."
After a camping trip slash writing session, Ashley and Miranda, old friends, got a wild hair and called Angaleena.
"And we were like, 'Hey, you want to start a girl band with us? We wrote "Hell on Heels" like the first month of hanging out. So, yeah, definitely lots of chemistry there."
This year, the trio took a break from touring, but still won two CMA nominations and released their sophomore album. One of their biggest thrills-- landing a song on the Hunger Games soundtrack.
"We all stood around one mic, Carter family style, and recorded it. That was a huge moment."
It's hard to mark the highlights of Ashley's solo career. Of course, the Grand Ole Opry.
"That's all I wanted to do. That was my dream."
She's played it several times since her inaugural performance in 2006.
In 2011, she toured with Jack White and Wanda Jackson
"She's another one of my idols."
And 2013, well, it's going to be hard to top.
"I got to sing on Don Henley's new album."
She toured with Train performing the duet "Bruises" with lead singer, Pat Monahan. And currently, she's touring with Hunter Hayes.
"When I'm not singing or writing or on the road, I go where he (John Danks) is."
Ashley did take a break for a special life moment, marrying Chicago White Sox Pitcher John Danks in a quiet East Tennessee ceremony at Blackberry Farms.
Ashley's not sure what the future holds, but she knows it will include music.
"I still haven't sang with Dolly yet. I probably should get on that."
Ashley Monroe-- born in Corryton.
"This is home. When I come here I can breathe a little bit deeper."
HomeGrown in Tennessee.