Country music recording artist Tenille Townes brought her voice, her guitar, and her love of music to Isaiah T. Creswell Middle Magnet School of the Arts – and heard some beautiful music by the students in return.
Townes, a CMA Foundation artist ambassador, answered questions and played her song “Girl Who Didn’t Care” for about 80 students in music teacher Nita Smith’s classes. Smith, a 29-year MNPS veteran, was named a CMA Foundation Music Teacher of Excellence in 2020.
Townes, who grew up in Canada, said she listened to all kinds of music on the radio as a child and fell in love with country music’s storytelling. Dolly Parton and Shania Twain were early heroes, and she started singing at events in her small town when she was 5.
She got her first guitar at the age of 14 and started learning chords from a teacher, who showed her that she could pair those chords with the lyrics she was writing in her journal. She discovered that by writing songs, she could tell stories while also understanding her own emotions.
“To be able to write it down feels really therapeutic,” she told the students. “Music for me is just a safe place to let something out. It’s just a healing thing for me. It makes me feel better.”
Although she’s still getting used to some aspects of fame, like interviews and photo shoots, Townes said she loves writing songs and performing them for an audience.
After she performed “Girl Who Didn’t Care,” her latest single, which she recorded at home while in quarantine during the pandemic, Townes turned the stage over to Smith and her students. Smith described their version of the Ben E. King classic “Stand By Me” as “a work in progress,” but they had clearly worked on it quite a bit and made a great deal of progress already, and Townes and the other visitors were impressed.
“Keep singing,” Townes said. “You guys sound so gorgeous. I wish I had this kind of program in school. Thank you for singing for me. What a treat!”
After the class was over, Smith said she and other teachers are trying to plant the same seeds that grew in Townes when she was a child.
“The sky’s the limit,” Smith said. “You can be the next Tenille Townes. I just want them to know that their life matters and that the arts is a way they can express that. It can build their confidence. As they heard her speak, even though it was behind a mask, I hope they sensed her genuine spirit, because I did.”