Talking Bluegrass with Sister Sadie’s Gena Britt

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Gena Britt sings and plays banjo with Sister Sadie, the award-winning, all-female bluegrass outfit. Last year, Sister Sadie won the IMBA’s Entertainer of the Year and Vocal Group of the Year.

Sister Sadie is made up of Tina Adair (vocals, mandolin), Deanie Richardson (vocals, fiddle), and Gena Britt (vocals, banjo). By the time she was 18, Gena was performing on stage. Since then, she’s collected three IMBA Awards of her own and is now an integral part of Sister Sadie’s incredible success.

In addition to playing and recording with Sister Sadie, Gena plays bass with Phil Leadbetter & The All-Stars of Bluegrass.

Guitar Girl Magazine spoke with Gena Britt to find out how she got started in music, her definition of tone, and which artists she’s listening to right now.

What three things can’t you live without? 

God, My Family, Music.

What’s your songwriting process? Melody first, or lyrics?

When writing a song. I usually start with the lyrics first. I will hear a phrase that someone says typically and build around that and then write the melody that emotes the mood of the song. Usually, if it’s about something sad, I relate that to a minor key. I’m fascinated by the feelings a minor key gives the listener.

What do you hope your fans/listeners take away with them when they listen to your music?

I hope they will walk away feeling moved by our music and relatability.

What is your definition of tone? Has your tone changed over time?

I think the definition of tone is so many things, but to me probably the touch that a musician gives a note, whether vocally or instrumentally. You can make your voice or instrument match the song and the other musicians you are playing with. I guess my tone has changed over the years to a more mellow sound. Finding the right placement on the right hand, knowing it’s all about quality and not quantity. Less is more.

How did you get started in music? What’s the backstory there?

I grew up going to square dances when I was very little where my grandfather called the dances. That’s where I was introduced to string music. I fell in love with the sounds of the banjo from a very early age. I danced in clogging competitions all over the country until my late teens. By then, I was starting to become more proficient on banjo and bass, and began my first professional gig at 18 years old.

Which musicians/vocalists influenced you the most?

Overall, I would say Lynn Morris. She’s an incredibly gifted musician, singer, and professional woman. She was one of the very few banjo players, male or female who could play banjo and sing lead at the same time without breaking her roll. Just amazing. Other banjo players would be JD Crowe, Sammy Shelor, Scott Vestal, and Terry Baucom just to name a few. Vocally, Emmy Lou Harris, Rhonda Vincent, Sheri Easter, Alison Krauss, and many others.

Which artists are you listening to right now?

We just lost the iconic Tony Rice on Christmas Day and I have been listening to a lot of his music as of late. I’m very inspired by not only his incomparable guitar playing but his song choices and gift of arranging a song. His career was just incredible and it’s therapeutic to go back and listen to these amazing recordings that I wore out when I was learning this music many years ago.

Sister Sadie handles all their own booking, publicity, and administration. Why?

Honestly, we didn’t know Sister Sadie was going to turn into what it turned into. We set out to just have fun with some friends playing occasionally. We have held on to the reins so far because we like having control and not letting it go too far. We discussed in the beginning and attribute our success to striving for this magical feeling of making music together to not become too stagnant where it would make it feel like a job. We wanted to be just as exciting every time as it was the first time.

Do you have a guilty music and/or entertainment pleasure?

Gosh, I’d have to say just going into downtown Nashville and listening to those incredible Rockabilly bands. They make you feel so good!! Such underrated talent hiding down there!

Any advice for young female artists just getting started?

Just be yourself and know that you don’t have to do it just like somebody else did it. Having your own individuality and personality is so important. And be kind. Everybody loves kind people!

Why do you make music?

This is so cliché, but it is such a part of me. It’s like air. The happiness it gives me is indescribable.

What’s next for you?

I plan on performing and recording with Sister Sadie as much as possible. After Sister Sadie records our next album, I plan on doing another solo project at some point down the toad. I also play bass with a special project band called Phil Leadbetter & The All-Stars of Bluegrass. So, staying as busy as possible recording and performing this music that I love.

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