By Dale Hemmila
Life, like a good book, sometimes it takes a chapter or two before the real story — the good stuff — really begins.
Just ask award-winning singer and songwriter Julianne Ankley.
The Jeddo-native did not start singing in public until she was in her 30s.
Since that time, she has spent the past decade-plus tearing up the country music scene from the Blue Water Area to Nashville and back again, racking up 46 nominations and seven wins for Detroit Music Association (DMA) awards.
Along with her band, The Rogues, she is the 2019 DMA Outstanding Country Artist/Group.
Ankley, a Port Huron singer and songwriter, has been named Blue Water Woman Musician of the Year. She was nominated by Trista Bourdeau-Kolcz of Port Huron.
Not a bad track record for someone whose high school band director told her she wasn’t choir material.
“I took that to mean I wasn’t any good,” she said.
She played flute in the high school band, but she is a self-taught guitar player and vocalist.
“From the time I was very little, I had a voice,” she said. “And I could play the piano, and my parents really wanted me to go into singing early on. I couldn’t stand the thought of being in front of people. I didn’t want to be the center of attention. But I would sing everywhere I went: on the school bus, riding my horses, at school. I was singing all of the time. I just did it because I loved it.”
Going through an illness and recovery in her 30s, however, changed her point of view about performing.
“I started thinking about everything. About my life: what am I doing? What do I really want to do, and what’s important to me?”
She loved art when she was younger, so, after a 10-year hiatus, Ankley began to paint again. Bourdeau-Kolcz began taking her to local karaoke bars to sing. That led to entering and winning vocal competitions, which led to a recording session and photo shoot. She joined a Detroit-area band, which led to some time in Nashville. She decided to start writing her own songs. That led to cutting a solo demo. She launched herself as a solo artist in 2009.
She has since released three albums of original country music. And country music is where she feels comfortable.
“I grew up listening to country music,” she said. “It’s where the stories are.”
Ankley has added to those stories with songs and music videos of her own. There is the story of a single mom living with her kids in her car called, “No Place for a Lullabye,” and the song she wrote for her sister-in-law about her nephew leaving for military service called, “He’s Still My Boy.” Her most recent video, “Why,” is about leaving and good-byes. It was recorded at the Lexington Village Theater.
Currently, she is finishing her fourth album, which includes a new song she co-wrote with Caleb Malooley of the regionally-known rock group, The Gasoline Gypsies.
While recording sessions in Nashville with top musicians such as, “Reba McIntire’s band drummer, Willie Nelson’s guitar player,” add high quality to her recordings, it doesn’t make it any easier to make a living singing and writing music.
“No one is buying music,” Ankley said. “The majority of people listening to music are not purchasing music; they are streaming.”
Music streaming services such as Spotify, Apple Music, and Pandora do not pay musical artists very well.
Ankley shared that on her Pandora account for the fourth quarter of 2019, she had 643 “spins,” which paid her a grand total of 13 cents.
To counter that, Ankley is signing sponsors for her next CD, which she also plans to also release on vinyl later this year.
Fortunately, Ankley has a day job, where she works as a pediatric dental hygienist.
And while making money with her music would be great, it is not the total end-game.
“I have several artists who are cutting my music, that I have co-written, or written solely, and hopefully it will provide an income for me,” she said. “But it’s more about the journey than anything: when you sit in front of people, and you play something you wrote from your heart. When you see that you’ve touched somebody, they send a vibration back to you. It is selfish and selfless at the same time. When you can make someone feel something, it’s fabulous and there’s nothing like it.”