Traditional Appalachian stringed instrumental mountain music has always been an important part of Southwestern Virginia’s heritage. In our portion of Virginia, we celebrate the rich legacy of two Appalachian mountain music pioneers: The Carter Family, founders of country music and Dr. Ralph Stanley, from the first generation of prominent bluegrass musicians.
Since the early formation of Appalachian mountain music, the bluegrass genre of music has flourished in Southwestern Virginia. There is now a new generation of musicians playing bluegrass in my home city of Roanoke: The Brothers Young.
The Brothers Young are a duo of actual siblings: Ayden and Blane Young. Older brother Ayden is 14 and plays banjo, while Blane handles mandolin duties at age 10. Parents for these talented bluegrass performers are Melissa and Chad Young of Roanoke.
Ayden and Blane have been playing together for the past two years. Their mother Melissa Young provided the following text on how her sons became a musical bluegrass duo:
“The Brothers Young is a brother duo playing bluegrass in the mountains of Roanoke, Virginia. Close to the Crooked Road – Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail of SW Virginia and heart of traditional music. Their love for Bluegrass music came from growing up listening to classics such as Flatt & Scruggs, Ralph Stanley, Osborne Brothers and many more.
Ayden found an old banjo at his grandparents’ house about 3 years ago and it was an instant connection! He had to learn “Foggy Mtn. Breakdown.” We were given a mandolin to borrow from a family at church since they knew Ayden was into bluegrass, but his younger brother Blane took to the mandolin and the Brothers Young was born.”
My first experience hearing the Brothers Young play music live was during May 2019, at an Anglican parish, Church of the Holy Spirit (COTHS) in Roanoke. The event was celebrating the 30-year anniversary of Quigg Lawrence, being lead pastor for the COTHS congregation. Lawrence is also a Bishop with the Anglican Church in North America.
Bishop Lawrence loves bluegrass music and he invited guitarist/vocalist Junior Sisk from Ferrum, Virginia, to perform music at this celebration. Ayden and Blane joined Sisk that afternoon to play various bluegrass tunes.
The second encounter that I had hearing TBY was earlier this year at Church of the Holy Spirit, just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. In February, COTHS had a chili cook-off fundraising event, to raise funds for Rwanda missions. Brothers Ayden and Blane provided music throughout the event that was pleasing to my ears.
In preparation for me writing this music message on TBY, I had the opportunity to speak with Ayden, Blane and their mother Melissa, with a 30-minute interview via Zoom. We spoke on a wide variety of topics, including playing with Junior Sisk and recording a couple of bluegrass songs at Mountain Fever Studios in Willis, Virginia.
During my interview, I asked the Blane and Ayden when they started listening to bluegrass music? Ayden attributes listening to old bluegrass records when visiting his grandfather, Allen Worrell of Courtland, Virginia as a younger boy. The Brothers Young were also exposed to other types of music genres, by their parents Chad and Melissa.
The pivotal moment for heightened awareness of bluegrass music came during 2017 when Ayden brought home an old beaten-up banjo from his grandparents’ home. Soon after, Ayden started taking banjo lessons and his love for the instrument grew. Just two years later, Ayden placed 2nd at the Galax Old Fiddlers Convention for Youth banjo during August 2019.
Ayden disclosed to me that he considers Earl Scruggs as his biggest influence with the three-finger banjo picking style. The older brother is also versatile and accomplished, playing two other instruments: Guitar and the piano. Ayden is talented with his piano skills and has composed a few songs with this instrument, including a tune called, “Roanoke Rag.”
Blane is the quiet member of TBY and plays the mandolin. Considering that he took up his instrument just two years ago, his mandolin dexterity is strong and his skills continue to improve on a monthly basis. It is impressive to me how smooth Blane performs when playing his mandolin. Ricky Skaggs is the bluegrass artist that the younger brother admires, in relation to excellent mandolin musicians.
Obviously, music is a big part in the lives of Blane and Ayden. Spirituality also plays an important role with the daily routines for the boys. An important mentor is Bishop Quigg Lawrence, who provides both musical and spiritual guidance for the Brothers Young.
I asked Bishop Lawrence for some of his opinions on the Brothers Young as he has watched the boys grow with their musical talents over the past three years:
“It has been really fun to watch these boys progress in their musicianship. They have gotten really good, really fast. I remember the first time I heard Ayden play banjo, I thought, “that little dude is pretty good and has potential.” At the time he had been playing for maybe a year.”
“Blane is a kid to watch. Instead of chopping rhythm, (his little hands are too small for four finger chords), he mainly plays lead. With his current rate of progress, by the time he is 16 he will be turning heads and able to play with most anyone. Crowds find little Blane, endearing; He just grins from ear to ear and “goes for it.”
“One of the things I love most about these boys has nothing to do with their talent. They are humble and know that the Lord has given them these talents. They are never preachy but neither are they shy to give the Lord credit.”
October 2020 has been an exciting month for the Brothers Young. The duo had two Roanoke TV interviews after the release of their debut single, “Pretty Polly.” TBY spoke with Melissa Gaona on the WDBJ, “7 @ Four” show and then were featured on the WFXR, “Loving Living Local” program by Kianna Price.
Both of the Young brothers TV appearances focused on the duo recording two songs at Mountain Fever Studios in Willis, Virginia, with well-established bluegrass artists. Ayden and Blane expressed to me how thankful they were for the opportunity to be with Junior Sisk and the other musicians assembled for their debut recording experience.
The Brothers Young had an outstanding lineup of musicians according to Melissa Young:
“The boys got an amazing opportunity to collaborate with some amazing musicians back in August. Ayden plays banjo and Blane added mandolin chops. The amazing vocals from Junior Sisk and Heather Berry Mabe. On mandolin: Johnathan Dillon, guitar: Heather Mabe, fiddle: Doug Bartlett, bass: Scott Mulvahill.
On that hot summer day in August, Blane and Ayden recorded two songs with the consummate bluegrass band: “Pretty Polly” and “Little Birdie.” Also in the studio that day was Quigg Lawrence, who was the connection between Junior Sisk and TBY coming together to record music with the bluegrass all-star musicians.
Here are some observations that Lawrence had when he saw the Brothers Young in the recording studio for the first time:
“I was struck by how confident these kids were in the studio. At their age, I would have wet my pants to play in a recording studio with one of the best in the country, but they just jumped right in and played their hearts out. When Junior Sisk and his band heard them play during the warm up at Mountain Fever Studio, I THINK THEIR JAWS DROPPED. Sisk could not believe how much the boys had improved in one year.”
Two weeks ago, “Pretty Polly” was the first TBY song to be released as a single. The debut tune features vocals by Junior Sisk and Heather Mabe. The second TBY single to be released will be “Little Birdie” on November 13. Here is the link to purchase the “Pretty Polly” single: https://distrokid.com/hyperfollow/thebrothersyoungwithjuniorsiskandheathermabe/pretty-polly
I enjoyed speaking with Ayden and Blane about playing bluegrass music and being in a recording studio for the first time. At the end of our Zoom conversation, I asked the brothers about their plans for the future: Is playing bluegrass music for a living something that the brothers want to pursue when they become adults?
The consensus among the Brothers Young on future bluegrass career plans are unclear at this time. Both Ayden and Blane said they wanted to attend college after graduation from high school and explore different options with career paths.
Blane and Ayden also proclaimed wisdom to me when they shared how they wanted to be guided by the path that God was directing for them, as they grow from boyhood into adults. Being a positive Christian witness is important for TBY.
Official Facebook page for the Brothers Young: https://www.facebook.com/thebrothersyoung/
Official YouTube channel for the Brothers Young videos: https://www.youtube.com/user/mamaov2kids
For the immediate future, playing bluegrass music is a focal point for the Brothers Young. They are committed to improving their banjo and mandolin skills, wholeheartedly maintaining excellence as musicians.
I am encouraged to see the dedication and loyalty that Ayden and Blane show as they endeavor to hone their craft of playing bluegrass music together. Obviously, we do not know what the future holds in store for the bluegrass boys. I am confident the Brothers Young of Roanoke will be a positive force within the local Southwestern Virginia community from this point forward. Rock on!
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