Wyatt Ellis: Beyond His Years and Just Getting Started
Because of bluegrass music’s nurturing background, it’s relatively common to spot those early rising stars. However, the sudden success of twelve-year-old Maryville, Tennessee-based, bluegrass musician Wyatt Ellis was quite unexpected, especially since he spent the first six months playing mandolin with a broken arm.
He began playing piano at age five but gravitated toward stringed instruments, especially his mom’s favorite, the mandolin, four years later. Bluegrass veteran Roscoe Morgan became Wyatt’s mandolin instructor, and the sound and technique of Bill Monroe soon enamored Ellis.
“Bill Monroe is my biggest musical inspiration. He created a whole vocabulary for the mandolin,” said Wyatt. “There is just something real about his music.”
Wyatt has participated in Christopher Henry’s Bill Monroe workshop for two years, studying his music in a note-to-note fashion.
For Wyatt’s family, especially his mother Teresa, the success years have been a blur as their focus shifted toward Wyatt and his musical career, especially at the height of the pandemic.
“I really got serious about music during 2020 when everything shut down,” said Wyatt. “When the pandemic began, I lost all of my connections to music. I don’t have any musicians in my family, but I found an entire bluegrass community online.”
When the COVID-19 shutdown began, Wyatt spent more time growing his music and connecting with other artists and mentors, like Sierra Hull.
As a former child prodigy and mentee of Alison Krauss, Sierra wanted to share her knowledge of music and life lessons with another artist who, like her, needed a little guidance and friendship to kickstart their career. As part of the Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program, Sierra Hull taught the bluegrass mandolin to Wyatt throughout an eight-month apprenticeship during the pandemic.
Like Sierra, Wyatt started before the pandemic, playing at local festivals, shows, and bluegrass jam sessions. Still, he worried about keeping momentum during the pandemic before finding Skype lessons, online platforms, Monroe Mandolin Virtual Camp, and his apprenticeship with Sierra. Afterward,, Wyatt performed with Sierra.
“Working with Sierra was inspiring. She helped me improve my overall musicality, and she helped me with my timing and ability to play clearly,” said Wyatt.
“It was a great experience! The most memorable part was for the encore. We went into the crowd and jammed with The Po’ Ramblin Boys,” said Wyatt.
Wyatt is continuously learning and following his mentor Sierra’s footsteps.
With the momentum of Wyatt’s success, Gibson recently named him a Gibson Mandolin Endorsing Artist, making him the youngest of their artists.
“To own an instrument capable of creating the driving, rhythm, and soul of my heroes is a dream come true. Bill Monroe created bluegrass music’s signature sounds using his 1923 Gibson mandolin,” said Wyatt.
Wyatt’s partnership with Gibson began when his mom Teresa reached out to David Harvey, head of Gibson in Nashville, about a better-quality instrument for her son. Surprisingly, David was already familiar with Wyatt from his videos on YouTube. The endorsement was soon after.
As a member of the Gibson Generation Group, Gibson Brands endorsed Wyatt as part of the mentorship program alongside twelve of the best child musicians in the world. This Gibson Generation Group program offers Wyatt outstanding career opportunities like singing and playing at the world-famous Station Inn in Nashville on their Sunday night jam after attending Doyle Lawson’s show the night before.
Straight Up Strings, Blue Chip Picks, Calton Cases, Apollo Picks, Ear Trumpet Labs, and K&K Sound also endorsed Wyatt, and he is a proud member of Tomorrow’s Bluegrass Stars.
As we move into a new year, Wyatt has just concluded working with Paul Brewster as part of his 2021 Tennessee Folklife apprenticeship award, which allowed him to focus more on his singing and playing. He is currently putting together an album of original tunes that he composed last year, one of which — a song titled Shacanoge — won first place at the second annual Monroe-Style Tune Writing Contest.
“I dream to one day share my gifts with the world,” said Wyatt. “It would be a dream come true to become a member of the Grand Ole Opry.”