A little bit country
Newton residents earn country music awards

Two Newton County residents recently shined at the sixth annual Georgia Country & Gospel Music Association awards program, as they earned several honors for their vocal talents.

Julie O'Kelly Redish - who has brought home awards from the GCGMA for three consecutive years - won honors for Vocalist of the Year, Most Promising Entertainer and CD of the Year in the Female Bluegrass Division. April Draper received notice as Entertainer of the Year and Most Promising Vocalist in the Female Traditional Country category.

For Redish, her success at this year's GCGMA event, held in early November in Dalton, brings her award total to seven. In 2007, she earned three awards in the Female Bluegrass division and in 2006, she was named Vocalist of the Year in the Female New Country division.

"Yes, the mantel in our house is groaning," laughed Redish when asked about where she stores all her hardware. "When we came home, I told my husband, 'What am I going to do?' So we moved a plant from the mantle to make more room."

Redish received an early introduction to music as she was raised in a "church music family." Her father, John O'Kelly, served as minister of music at several area churches and her sister Chris Bryant was a member of the Glorylights gospel group.

"My whole family has been involved in music," she said. "It's something I grew up with. I always knew I could carry a tune."

A 1992 graduate of Newton High School, Redish played the trumpet in the marching band for two years and then spent two years in the chorus. Before joining up with the GCGMA three years ago, Redish had not been involved in music.

"Once I got married and settled, I never did much after that," she recalled. "Then, some friends invited us to go karaoke and I'd get up and sing. I found that I felt more at home on that stage than I did anywhere else. And I'd get a great response. So I did karaoke for a couple of years."

While waiting to audition for the USA Network television show "Nashville Star," Redish met some GCGMA representatives, and within a few days she had been invited to join the association, which helps artists connect with other musicians, promoters, producers and venue operators.

Perhaps most importantly, Redish said, the association provides opportunities for its members to perform.

"They have events all over the state," she said. "That's the whole point - to make contacts and build the foundation for the beginning of a career, if that's what you're looking for. It's also a great platform for meeting people. And it's really growing. When I joined three years ago, they had maybe 40 or 50 members - now they're up to 300."

Draper, who works as administrative specialist at the Covington Fire Department, joined the GCGMA earlier this year and didn't expect to win any awards, although she was aware of her two nominations. Draper said she only learned of her honors when Redish's husband Terry stepped out of the ceremony and called her.

"I had just joined and I figured I didn't have a chance," said Draper, a longtime Newton County resident who sang in the high school chorus. "When I found out that I had won, it was a good surprise."

Like Redish, Draper has been "singing forever" and sang in a couple of bands, including Southern Star (with fellow Newtonian Terry Hicks) and RockIt. When she got married a dozen years ago, however, she left music behind until getting interested in karaoke and competing in the recent "Covington Idol" talent contest.

"I didn't place in 'Covington Idol' but I ran into Julie, who went to high school the same time I did, through my MySpace page," said Draper. "She told me about the GCGMA and got me involved."

Draper and her husband Jim have two children, Courtney, 12, a seventh grader at Indian Creek Middle School, and Dalton, 10, a fourth grader at East Newton Elementary. Draper admitted her kids weren't exactly enthralled with their mother's singing career.

"Oh they get embarrassed by it," she said. "I guess it's a little strange for them to see me up and singing. But it feels good. I realize I really missed singing. I'm really excited about being able to perform more."

With the honors they received in Dalton, Redish and Draper have all qualified to appear in March at the 11th annual Country Music Week and North American Country Music Association International Hall of Fame and Awards Show in Pigeon Forge, Tenn.

To hear songs recorded by Julie O'Kelly Redish, visit www.myspace.com/julieredish. To hear April Draper, visit www.myspace.com/aprildraper.