By Lindsey Kay Hurtt
This month, singer and songwriter Jillian Edwards performed in front of the largest crowd that Waco’s Common Grounds coffee house has ever seen. Edwards was opening for Nashville-based folk duo the Civil Wars. Everyone fell silent as Edwards’ smooth voice and acoustic guitar instrumentals conveyed stories and melodies, often based on her personal experiences. “Thank you, guys,” Edwards addressed the crowd. “I just don’t have words.”
Edwards is a senior at Baylor majoring in communications, but only four short years ago, she would never have willingly subjected herself to a stage in front of so many people. During her senior year of high school, Edwards was singing backup for her brother’s band when he suddenly informed the audience his sister would play a song she had written. “It was really good for me because I didn’t have time to be nervous, and I wasn’t able to back out in front of everyone,” said Edwards, who had only played her own songs in front of her family.
Edwards’ musical training took place in her childhood home. “Music is just a normal thing at my house. Everyone writes music, and if they don’t write it then they really love it or can sing harmony to it. That was my education, growing up hearing my dad play his songs on the piano while mom sang along with him,” Edwards said.
Edwards spent the summer before coming to Baylor playing music at Pot Belly, a sandwich shop with live music. Upon arriving at Baylor, the first show Edwards played was at an open-mic night at Common Grounds, the popular coffee house just off the Baylor campus. “I ended up loving it, even though it was terrifying at the time,” she said. Edwards formed a relationship with the managers at Common Grounds, making herself available to open for many of the bands that played there.
Baylor’s student-run record label, Uproar Records (then called the Baylor Rising Artists Network), helped Edwards get started. “People connected with Baylor have helped a lot,” Edwards said. Uproar booked gigs for Edwards and allowed her to record in a studio with a producer for the first time.
She thought briefly about joining a Christian record label after leaving Uproar her junior year, but for now she has decided to do everything independently. “I’ve never felt called to be a Christian artist. I just want to be an artist who is a Christian. I want to reach anyone and everyone with my music,” Edwards said.
Edwards’ first six-track album, Galaxies and Such, was produced by Nashville producer and Christian artist Chris August and released in 2009. It is available for purchase on iTunes and Amazon MP3. Her single, Go Together, was featured on the 2010 film soundtrack of To Save a Life. Edwards is now working on a full-length album, being produced by Chris August and set to be released in late summer.
Edwards has also worked with the Civil War’s producer, Charlie Peacock, who has helped her with artist development and with navigating the music industry as an independent artist. “You don’t have to have a record deal anymore to be successful, which is really exciting,” Edwards said.
“I always want to project the most honest, real thing I can,” Edwards said. “I used to just write songs whenever something happened, anything that caused a strong emotion. I would get out my guitar and start strumming or picking something and humming over it until it became words,” Edwards said. “That’s still how I prefer to write, but I’ve been writing from other perspectives now as well—putting discipline and inspiration together, and maybe putting myself in someone else’s shoes or remembering a feeling I’ve had,” Edwards adds. “Whatever the message of the song, I hope it will be beautiful enough to draw people in, and I trust that God is in that and can reach people through it. Music in general is an incredible vehicle the Lord really uses to touch people.”
Edwards plans to move to Nashville upon graduating in May, giving her more opportunities to pursue songwriting, performing, and collaboration with other artists.
“I don’t know if I’ll be playing at coffee shops all the time, or recording independently or with a record label,” Edwards says. “But somewhere, somehow, it’s just one of those things I’m never going to stop doing.”