by Susan Marquez
Something You Didn't Count On
Born in Nashville and raised in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, Jaelee Roberts was destined to be in the music industry.
By age twelve, she had performed on seven recordings.
She was born to veteran music professionals and had a remarkable childhood, practically growing up backstage at the Grand Ole Opry. Jaelee’s mother, Andrea Roberts, was in the band Petticoat Junction and others. “She played with so many cool people,” says Jaelee. “She is an impressive singer, guitar player, and bass player. She even played bass on the Opry with Bill Monroe!” Now Andrea is a booking agent and manager for bluegrass bands. One of those bands is The Grascals, and Jaelee’s father, Danny Roberts, plays mandolin with the band. “He has done so many amazing things, and he’s the reason I got to grow up backstage at The Opry! The Grascals would play, and I’ve been lucky to be there most of the times they played. I’m so thankful for both of my parents, and I love them very much.”
An only child, Jaelee says she also grew up singing in church. “It is my favorite place to sing. I started out singing with the other kids in ‘Super Church,’ which was the kids’ church. Now all these years later, I help with Super Church sometimes which is really awesome. It is just the best to sing and play in church and know it’s all for honoring God.” Jaelee started taking fiddle lessons when she was four years old. “Gail Johnson was my teacher and she played in Petticoat Junction with my mom. I still love to play the fiddle, but my real focus right now is on the guitar.”
“I’m beyond thankful for the opportunities I have been blessed with from such an early age. I think getting those opportunities to sing in a studio at such a young age really helped prepare me for the future.”
As many child musicians do, Jaelee participated in competitions but discovered after being on stage – even dancing on the Grand Ole Opry with the Opry Square Dancers (thanks to her clogging teachers, Cheryl and Pokey Chunn) – Jaelee began doing fewer competitions and focused more on performing.
While still in high school Jaelee was selected to attend GRAMMY Camp in both Nashville and Los Angeles. “The Nashville camp was super cool for the focus of recording in the studio and learning about co-writing and getting a general feel for the music business. The LA camp was insane! I learned so much about the music business and songwriting and so many things that were important to hear about at a younger age as opposed to learning them as an older person. It was such an amazing experience and, quite literally, one of the coolest things I have ever been a part of. It was like a movie when you walked in, and your peers are just everywhere, jamming out on instruments!”
Something You Didn’t Count On
School & Songwriting
Currently Jaelee attends Middle Tennessee State University, where she is majoring in songwriting. “I am so thankful to be attending college there,” she says. “MTSU is the best school, and it has presented me with so many wonderful opportunities.” During the Covid pandemic in 2020 and 2021, Jaelee did most of her classes online and really focused on her songwriting. A reflective time for her, she tried not to be discouraged by the news about the virus. “Songwriting was my escape.”
Sister Sadie & IBMA
In October 2020, Jaelee received a call from Deanie Richardson asking if she’d like to audition for the vacant guitar/vocal position left by departing member Dale Ann Bradley. “It’s kinda crazy because Deanie played in a band with my dad when she was 13 and banjo player Gena Britt played in a band with my mom when she was a teenager,” says Jaelee. After the call, Deanie sent me a list of songs to work on and a few weeks later I went and did the audition. I was in awe because my musical heroes are in that band – Sister Sadie is a groundbreaking band for females in bluegrass music” In December 2020, Jaelee performed on the Grand Ole Opry with Sister Sadie for her live audition. This was a very special Opry performance that also aired lived on television celebrating the 75th Anniversary of Bluegrass Music. “Afterwards, I just went backstage and cried. I was so thankful for that moment. I was literally shaking because it was a dream come true and because I was so excited!” A month later, Jaelee got a group call from the band, saying they wanted her to join them. “It has been such a fun and amazing opportunity for me, and I love getting to play alongside women I’ve looked up to.”
In addition to becoming a full-time member of Sister Sadie in 2021, Jaelee also received the IBMA Momentum Vocalist of the Year award and shared in Sister Sadie’s third IBMA Vocal Group of the Year award.
The Debut Album
Jaelee’s downtime during the pandemic has resulted in her debut full-length album, Something You Didn’t Count On, set to be released May 20 on the Mountain Home Music Company label. The title track shows off her skills as a new-generation songwriter and she is cowriter on four of the album’s twelve songs. Two songs on the CD, “Still Waters” by Kelsi Robertson Harrigill and “I Owe Him Everything” by Lyn Rowell, reveal her faith, an essential part of Jaelee’s life. The album also features several unrecorded original songs including a tune composed by Molly Tuttle and Jon Weisberger called “You Can’t Stop Me From Staying” and “Think Again” which was the subject of Jaelee’s very first music video. There’s also a special appearance by Vince Gill who is singing harmony on a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide.” Joining Jaelee in the studio was an incredible cast of musicians and vocalists: Tim Surrett – bass/vocals/producer; Kristin Scott Benson – banjo; Alan Bibey – mandolin; Jimmy Mattingly – fiddle; Tony Wray – guitar; along with Kenny and Amanda Smith, Paul and Kelsi Harrigill, and Theo MacMillan on harmony vocals. Jaelee’s powerful and expressive vocals shine throughout the album displaying the special songs that she has chosen to include on her debut solo recording.
“I have been thinking about making an album for as long as I can remember. I have always known that music was going to be my lifelong pursuit, and I want to share the music in my heart with other people. I’m so thankful to everyone at Mountain Home Music for taking a chance on me and signing me to the label when I was just 19 years old and with very little touring/stage experience. It means so much to have a group of people that believe in you, and I’ll forever be grateful to them for this opportunity.”