RIPLEY, W.Va. — Kanawha County native and country music star Kathy Mattea urged Jackson County high school students to pursue their dreams during a visit to Ripley High School Tuesday afternoon.
The award-winning Mattea appeared very relaxed as she answered questions from Ripley and Ravenswood high schools. She talked about growing up in Cross Lanes and enrolling at West Virginia University after high school only to leave Morgantown in search of her country music dream.
She said that first six-months to a year in Nashville were probably the loneliest time in her life.
“I would call my mother on the phone and she’d say hello and I would say hello and I’d be crying and she would hang up on me. She was like, ‘You took responsibility for this and you’re going to have to find your way through it.’ That was hard but I’m glad she did that.”
Mattea said she finally got over her loneliness when she found fellow musicians going in the same direction.
“It took me a long time to find people that understood how it felt to leave your whole life behind and go towards your dream,” she said.
She was asked about her most memorable performance and she said it was the year she headlined the Charleston Sternwheel Regatta.
“There were about 150,000 people there. The (Kanawha) river was full of boats. There were people on the other side of the river. There were people on the Southside Bridge and people hanging out of the windows of the hotel looking down on the Boulevard,” Mattea remembered. “Having that kind of reception from the place you are from—-it was probably the moment that means the most to me. I felt so loved and appreciated by my hometown and I felt that I got to give something back to them too.”
Mattea, who was the Country Music Association’s Female Vocalist of the Year in 1989 and 1990, told the students the music industry has changed and it’s much more difficult to make it these days the way she did but she encouraged them to follow their dreams. Mattea said it takes a lot of hard work including the mastery of voice and instrument.
“You have to learn how to make that instrument make its sound and then you get to know that so well that you can forget it and listen to the music, play the music. But there is a point on the front end where you really have to have that discipline in order to free up what you can express later on,” she said.
Mattea sang a few songs Tuesday including the 1988 Single of the Year Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses and Mary Did You Know.