For Chester native Brinn Black, a future in music was never in question.
“I have pictures of me singing when I was like 3 at church,” she said. “I just had a performing bug. I just always wanted to be in front of people.”
Now Black, 22, is living her dream, hearing her songs on the radio and making the trek from Nashville, Tenn., to perform back home. She recently performed at Fort Pickett on April 23 and the Petersburg Music Festival Concert at Richard Bland College on April 24.
“It’s never been ‘if’ she makes it, it’s always been ‘when,’” Black’s mother, Clover Hill High School Choral Director Sandi Thomas, said. “She’s got the drive and the passion to do what it takes.”
Black moved to Chester when she was 8 years old, she said. In fifth grade, her teacher asked her to try out for a district choir, she said. She started getting solos at church around the same time.
“In sixth grade, everybody thought I would do choir, so I decided to rebel and do band,” she said, laughing. Until high school, she played the French horn, she said.
“It’s beautiful, it really is,” she said of the instrument. “I was actually pretty good.”
From Carver Middle School, Black moved on to Thomas Dale High School, she said.
“I loved it,” she said of her high school. “I was in all the show choirs and I was dance caption. … It was probably one of the best times of my life.”
When she graduated in 2005, Black had only one destination in mind: Belmont University in Nashville. At the time, going to Belmont meant making it in country music, she said.
“I ended up getting put on a waiting list,” she said. “I thought life was over.”
She and her mother spent “endless hours” on the phone with the school, she said. Ultimately, she applied and was accepted to Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tenn. It was a blessing in disguise, she said, as MTSU had a better music program, but leaving Virginia, and her mother, wasn’t easy.
Thomas said she could never see her daughter doing “anything else except music.”
Her advice for Black was simple.
“Grab hold and don’t let go,” Thomas said. “Just follow your dream. That was it.”
At MTSU, Black shared an apartment with several girls, including one who also grew up in Chester. About six months after she arrived, one of her roommates told her: “We want to make you a star.”
Black set out to learn the business, and toured with a couple people and did some “marketing stuff.” One of her friends told her she needed to learn to write songs, saying, “In Nashville, you can’t be an artist if you can’t write songs.”
A post on a Nashville message board soliciting songwriting help drew a response from two men who were looking for a writing partner, as well as someone to sing their songs. Together, the trio wrote Black’s first song, Forgotten Memories, which is about her grandparents, she said.
After the three went their separate ways, Black put up fliers and recruited a band. She also “picked up a guitar” and taught herself to play, and soon balanced acoustic performances, school and work, she said.
As well as Sweet Virginia Sunset, a song she “wrote really quickly, in like 30 minutes, one day,” and several other songs, Black recorded a song written by the uncle of one of her band members, titled Places She’s Never Been. She soon learned that the uncle was Doak Turner, “the networking guru of Nashville,” she said.
“He’s been like my Nashville dad now,” she said, and he helped with the pressing of her first CD, also titled Places She’s Never Been.
Since then, she’s had a songwriting internship, been invited to the Academy of Country Music Awards, played and sold out The Bluebird twice and traveled to France as part of a marketing project.
“It’s crazy just to be invited” to play at The Bluebird, she said. A friend from church approached her after the first Bluebird show and said, “You’ve been working your butt off and I really want to manage you,” she said. She and her manager tag-team everything, she said.
“We’re both on the same page,” she said.
And things just keep getting better.
In March, her performance at the Country Radio Seminar was shut down because the room was so packed with people it was a fire hazard, she said. The incident created buzz, and she was moved to the second floor, where there was more room.
“We had all these radio people really digging my stuff,” she said. And, the next thing she knew, her song Not That Girl was playing on country radio stations, including K95 Country, her hometown station, she said.
“It just was the perfect timing that they started playing it now,” she said. “It’s been a long journey. It’s completely divine intervention. That’s all I can attest it to. It’s God.”
Black said she’s lucky to have good friends, both back home and in Nashville, who help keep her grounded, as does her extensive work with cancer patients.
“I still have friends back home that I can call and feel normal,” she said. “My family is awesome. They don’t treat me any different.
“I don’t think that I am any different than anybody. I just have a different job.”
Thomas isn’t surprised that her daughter has remained level-headed.
“Brinn has always been very humble,” she said. “Sometimes she doesn’t mention some of the big things happening to her. … But that doesn’t surprise me, because she’s just that kind of kid.”