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Chartbreaker: How Carly Pearce’s Breakthrough Country Hit Almost Didn’t See the Light of Day

Nashville singer-songwriter Carly Pearce finally breaks big with the hit no one believed in.

Nashville singer-songwriter Carly Pearce finally breaks big with the hit no one believed in.

At first, bluegrass was her thing

Kentucky, where Pearce grew up, is an epicenter for bluegrass as well as country, so she became fluent in both at a young age. “I got asked to join a bluegrass group at [age] 11,” says Pearce, 27. “Bluegrass musicians are unbelievable, so that’s how I learnt to sing harmony. I played an all-boys prison, every tent revival you could think of, churches, bars — they would sneak me in.”

She earned her stripes working at Dollywood

Pearce traded high school for home schooling when she was 16 so she could work at the Dolly Parton-owned theme park. “I did six shows a day, five days a week,” she recalls. “We did everything from June Carter and The Carter Family to Patsy Cline to Taylor Swift. It was an intense crash course on what was to come in Nashville.”

Carly Pearce photographed Aug. 15 at Old Glory in Nashville.
Carly Pearce photographed Aug. 15 at Old Glory in Nashville.  Eric Ryan Anderson

Labels passed on her hit single “Every Little Thing”

“I really didn’t think it would be the song that helped to break me in the industry — especially not in the summer,” she says of her debut smash. “I had plenty of people pass on ‘Every Little Thing.’” The one that didn’t was Big Machine, Swift’s label, which signed Pearce in January. Seven months later, the song cracked the Hot 100.


She swings two states

It’s rare for singers to move easily between the contrasting Nashville and Texas country scenes, but Pearce was willing to duet with Texas’ Josh Abbott on “Wasn’t That Drunk” in 2016. It paid off: The single gained enough Texas regional radio momentum that it eventually dented the top 40 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart. “When I started out, [Abbott] was like, ‘Do not tell people you are from Nashville,’ ” says Pearce. “But they embraced me.”

You Should Know: Carly Pearce. Watch our video interview here:

This story originally appeared in the September 2 issue of Billboard.