Carly Pearce Should Be Next Contemporary Grand Ole Opry Member

Placing aside for a second the list of all of the great traditional country artists and country legends that should be considered for induction into The Grand Ole Opry, and it is ample. I mean goodness, what does Jamey Johnson have to do at this point to make it in? But when it was announced recently that Lady Antebellum would be the latest inductee, it seemed like such an unfair hopscotching of so many other deserving performers, even when you take into consideration that the previous two invitees were Gene Watson and Rhonda Vincent in early 2020, and so it was probably about time for them to pick a mainstream act.

Still, you would like to think that such a weighty distinction would fall upon the shoulders of someone—mainstream or otherwise—who you know will take the privilege seriously, will honor the roots and prestige of the institution and country music in general, regardless of what one might think about their music. Carrie Underwood is a good example. She’s probably not very high on the depth charts of traditionalists. But she has shown nothing but reverence and commitment to the Opry over her career.

The name you saw bandied about after the Lady Antebellum announcement that could fulfill those requirements was Big Machine’s Carly Pearce. Born in Taylor Mill, Kentucky in the northern tip of the state, Pearce developed an interest in country music at an early age from her grandparents, and was playing bluegrass at 11, declaring proudly in one home video that she would play The Grand Ole Opry someday. Her real last name is Slusser, but she adopted Pearce as a stage name after her grandfather.

Carly Pearce dropped out of school at 16 after trying out for the “Country Crossroads” show at Dollywood and winning the job. She then convinced her family to move to Pigeon Forge with her. There she performed bluegrass music six times a day, five days a week, and performed on a few bluegrass compilations albums as well. Carly Pearce’s musical acumen was formed deep in the roots of country music, and her commitment to the music from an early age was profound. This is the very kind of performer you would like to see graced with an Opry invite.

Carly moved to Nashville when she was 19, and struggled for years to get her start, signing a developmental deal with Sony Nashville before losing it soon after, and cleaning AirBNB’s to get by. One of her first champions was actually Pete Fisher, who was the General Manager of the Opry at the time, and bestowed Pearce with her Opry debut in 2015 when she was still unsigned. Guesting on the track “Wasn’t That Drunk” from Texas’s Josh Abbott Band is what put her on the map of radio, and eventually led her to signing with Big Machine Records.

Since recording for Big Machine, it’s been fair to characterize Carly Pearce’s output as hit and miss, both considering its adherence to country’s roots, and the quality of the writing and composition. Like so many country artists that move to Nashville, she wants to be country, but is pushed in a more pop and commercial direction by the powers that be. In October of 2019 she was quoted as saying, “I really wanna be a purist. I really wanna be a country artist. I was in Nashville for eight and a half years before I got a record deal. I wanted so desperately for people to care about my music that I was writing from a place of desperation.”

But one thing that hasn’t wavered is Carly’s commitment to the Grand Ole Opry. Since receiving that opportunity from Pete Fisher in 2015, Carly Pearce has performed on the Opry stage some 80 times. With the concerns over the last few years with so few mainstream Opry members actually taking time to perform on the stage, that is the level of commitment you want to see from the performers who are invited to join.

There is still a lot to determine about the career path of Carly Pearce moving forward. Her current single “Next Girl” speaks to her desire to be more country, and with the success of guys like Luke Combs and others in the mainstream with more country sounds, it has opened the door for an artist like Carly to express their country roots more strongly.

If The Grand Ole Opry is going to induct artists from the mainstream, they should be ones on the way up, they should be able straddle that difficult line of being both commercially relevant and committed to country’s roots, and they should want it more than anything else in the world, like it’s something they’ve dreamed about their entire lives, and they will never take it for granted. Considering those requirements, there’s nobody more qualified from the mainstream set at the moment than Carly Pearce.

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