New Jersey Stage
New Jersey Stage on social media

For great Jersey music and much more, tune into our radio station at

Teenage Country Music Sensation EmiSunshine

By Shen Shellenberger,

originally published: 04/02/2018

Teenage Country Music Sensation EmiSunshineEmiSunshine is a genuine country music wonder girl. Emi, whose full name is Emilie Sunshine Hamilton, began singing when she was four years old, or, as her mother Alisha Hamilton said in an online interview, “as soon as she was old enough to harmonize.”

“I have been surrounded by music all my life,” Emi told me when we talked by phone. “My grandmothers were in a gospel group, my mom is a songwriter, and my dad writes and plays,” she said. “Music is just a part of who I am.”

At five, together with her mother, Emi wrote her first song, “My Time to Fly.” By the time she was eight, she had learned to play guitar, mandolin, and ukulele. And, in 2014, at the ripe ol’ age of nine, Emi became a certifiable sensation after a video of her performing spread as quickly as a dry-grass wildfire.

“In 2014, I was playing and singing with the band [her father Randall Hamilton on stand-up bass, brother John Letner on mandolin, and 'Uncle' Bobby Hill on drums] at a flea market in Tennessee, and a fan, who’s also a good friend of ours, recorded it and put it on YouTube.”

The video went viral, posting thousands and thousands of views and likes. “I was kind of surprised,” she said of the video’s instant popularity, “and really excited. It was life-changing.”

Life changing, indeed, as that video led to an invitation for Emi and her band to play on NBC’s “The Today Show,” which enjoys a million-plus viewership. Now, only a few years later, Emi’s YouTube site has had more than 14 million visitors and half a million folks follow her on Facebook. She and the band play more than 50 shows a year – at festivals and venues across the country – and have performed a dozen times at the esteemed country music palace the Grand Ole Opry.


In the September 2017 issue of Rolling Stone magazine, Emi was listed among the “10 New Country Artists You Need to Know,” and in April an episode of “Little Big Shots” that features Emi and the band will be broadcast. That was a thrill for Emi, too. “Being on the show was a great experience,” she said, adding that she really enjoyed “getting to meet the other kids” and the host, Steve Harvey. “He was so nice,” she said, “and very kind to my family and my band.”

Later this spring, Emi and the band will perform at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, a choice gig for an artist of any age. “My dad told me about New Orleans when I was young,” Emi said, “and my parents took me there for my birthday.” But playing Jazz Fest is something very special for Emi. “I’ve been dreaming about that for a long, long time.”

When talking with someone Emi’s age, you might find a bit of irony in a statement like that and be tempted to ask: How long is a long, long time when you’re 13?

But Emi is clearly an old soul, with a level of experience that normally doesn’t come so early in life. Not only do her talent and stage presence belie her age but she also possesses a sensibility rarely found in someone so young.

In fact, when I asked Emi about her songwriting process and from where her inspiration comes, she responded in a wise-beyond-her-years way.

“Everyone has their own formula for writing songs,” she explained. “It doesn’t have to be the same as anyone else’s.”

Correct me if I’m wrong here, but this does not sound like the standard teenage philosophy.

“I started young and I was able to learn at my own pace,” she said. “I never felt like I had to rush it.”

I asked Emi if there are any artists she would like to collaborate with in the future. “Oh, my gosh,” she said. “I’d love to work with Chris Stapleton, Darryl Scott, Jamey Johnson, Tyler Childers – these guys speak my language and they write what my mama and I try to. I love writing with Mama. She has all the words for a good story like she’s lived 100 lives.”

Emi has also become part of a writers’ circle in Nashville, with the likes of Vicki McGehee, Kyle Jacobs, and Jeffrey Steele. “That’s big for a small-town girl like me,” she said.

Emi’s first love was the music all around her as a child – “the older, more traditional country sounds” – but she says her musical tastes are expanding. “Lately, I try to ‘absorb’ music – the variations in lyrics, phrasing, and composition – and explore some of the newer country artists as well as older blues and rock.”

When you are a professional artist, it can be hard not to think of music as your job, so I asked Emi if she still listens to music for fun. I love her response.

“Music IS fun!” she said. “If we’re not singing or playing, we are listening to music.” Her favorites span a wide range – from Tom Petty, Levon Helm, some Bad Company, and newer favorites Government Mule and Grateful Dead. And she told me that if you looked at her phone playlist right now, you’d find a lot of Emmylou Harris, Gram Parsons, Jason Isbell, and Buddy and Julie Miller. When she is in a drawing or painting mood, she looks to John Prine, Bob Dylan, and Kris Kristofferson to inspire her.

While these may not be a typical 13-year-old’s musical choices, the music that Emi listens to is a direct reflection of what she is living and learning.

“I just love the kind of music that goes into your soul and makes you feel good,” she said, but this sentiment does not mean that Emi’s songs are one-dimensional or artificially bright and sunny. “Some of the darkest music can make you feel good and speak to your soul,” she said. “Sometimes you have to get through the sadness to get to the happiness.”

Teenage Country Music Sensation EmiSunshine

And she added, from the perspective of a young woman with a strong spiritual side, “if God wants you to say something meaningful, He will give it to you.”

I asked Emi to let her imagination run wild for a minute and tell me about whom she would love to share a stage with.

“The top of my list would be “Dolly Parton • Emmylou Harris • EmiSunshine,” she told me. “Beyond that, I’d like to play with Bob Weir, Buddy Miller, and Jim Lauderdale,” she said. “Oh, and Rod Stewart would be great too!”

“They are all my heroes,” she said. “They always give 100 percent, and that’s what I try to do. ”

From talking to Emi, it’s obvious that a huge part of what gives her self-confidence, self-assurance, and the ability to be such a polished and professional performer is that she has always had her family behind her. “They are so supportive,” she said. “I honestly don’t know what I would be doing right now if it weren’t for them.”

And, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, Emi describes herself as having “a normal life.”

“I’m home-schooled, but that’s not new,” she said. “I do a lot of the same things other kids my age do.”

This includes hobbies like drawing and painting – “my life revolves around art” – and a more recent passion for the hula hoop.

But music is her heart and soul.

“I love it so much,” she said. “I believe it is why I was put on this earth.”

About the author: Shen’s been a Jersey girl for most of her life, other than living for a three-year stretch in Portland, Oregon, and six magical months in Tokyo. Shen loves the arts in all of its various forms – from the beauty of a perfectly-placed base hit to the raw energy of rock 'n' roll – and has successfully passed on this appreciation to her three grown children. Shen’s most recent jobs include WXPN (1993-2001) and the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2003-present). Shen also has been a working freelancer for 25 years, and operated her own frame shop in Mt. Holly in the late-70s.

Content provided by Discover Jersey Arts, a project of the ArtPride New Jersey Foundation and New Jersey State Council on the Arts.

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Presents Motor City Live: A Motown Christmas
(ATLANTIC CITY, NJ) -- Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City has extended Motor City Live: A Tribute to Motown through the month of December with a special Motor City Live: A Motown Christmas. Along with your favorite Motown classics, you’ll hear some Motor City versions of your favorite Holiday songs sprinkled in like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” from The Temptations, Aretha Franklin’s “Winter Wonderland,” “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” from the Jackson 5, Smokey Robinson’s “Jingle Bells” and much more.
Wisin & Yandel To Perform At Prudential Center
(NEWARK, NJ) -- Latin music’s most iconic duo, Wisin & Yandel, announced their first U.S. tour today since their five-year hiatus with the Como Antes Tour 2019. The 15-city tour will kick off May 23 and make a much-anticipated stop at Prudential Center on Sunday, June 16. Yandel is managed by Andy Martinez and Wisin is managed by Walter Kolm.
Grunin Center Presents Canadian Brass
(TOMS RIVER, NJ) -- The award-winning Canadian Brass takes the stage at the Jay and Linda Grunin Center for the Arts  on Friday, December 14 at 8:00pm to present “Christmas Time is Here.”   Now in its 47th season, the Canadian Brass has performed in virtually every major concert hall in the world, has been seen by hundreds of millions of people on television, sold two million of its approximately 100 albums worldwide, and contributed nearly 600 new works and arrangements to the brass quintet repertoire. Renowned for genre-bending versatility and joyous performances, Canadian Brass is almost single-handedly responsible for elevating the art of the brass quintet to what it is today.
Papa Roach To Perform At Stone Pony
(ASBURY PARK, NJ) -- Alternative rock quartet Papa Roach will bring their summer 2019 headlining run, the Who Do You Trust? Tour,with Asking Alexandria and Bad Wolves to The Stone Pony Summer Stage on August 9, 2019.  The tour will also have an area date at Philadelphia's Metropolitan Opera House on August 7th.
Uli Jon Roth To Return To Newton Theatre
(NEWTON, NJ) -- Uli Jon Roth returns to The Newton Theatre on Friday, May 3, 2019 at 8:00pm.
During his five year tenure as a member of Germany’s number one rock band, The Scorpions, Uli built the foundation for his status of guitar legend. He quickly established himself as one of the main songwriters in the band and soon gained an international reputation as one of the most important innovators of the electric guitar.

An Interview with Chip Davis Of Mannheim Steamroller Christmas
You can experience the magic of the holidays — Steamroller-style — when Mannheim Steamroller Christmas by Chip Davis makes a tour stop this Thursday, December 6, 2018, at New Brunswick, NJ’s historic State Theatre.
Max Weinberg’s Jukebox LIVE! at the Grunin Center
Something is different about tonight’s November 18, 2018 concert at Toms River, NJ’s Grunin Center for the Arts starring Max Weinberg, celebrated drummer from Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band!
PHOTOS: Matt O'Ree Band at The Stone Pony in Asbury Park
(ASBURY PARK, NJ) -- The Matt O'Ree Band returned to The Stone Pony in Asbury Park on Friday, November 16 and photographer Estelle Massry of Coucou Photography was on hand to take some photos.  David Bryan from Bon Jovi was one of the special guests that night.
"How Could You Not Love Them?" The Buckinghams and Herman's Hermits LIVE! at BergenPAC
Although it’s a chilly Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018 evening in Englewood, NJ, music lovers are lined up outside the Bergen Performing Arts Center waiting to hear classic songs of the ’60s as performed by two quintessential groups of the era — The Buckinghams and Herman’s Hermits starring Peter Noone!
If It Ain't Baroque... Bach's Brandenburg Concertos With Symphony in C
You know the old joke: If it ain’t Baroque, don’t fix it? Well, put away those tools, dear reader. Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos ARE Baroque, so no fixing necessary. This Saturday, December 1, Symphony in C is performing Johann Sebastian Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos Nos. 2 through 6 at the Rutgers-Camden Center for the Arts. Officially presented in 1721, these collective works are considered to be some of the finest orchestral compositions of the Baroque era (generally 1600 to 1750). These six concertos are among the most recorded, performed and beloved works by Bach. – And that’s J.S. Bach, for those of you keeping score at home. There are a LOT of Bachs.

Event calendar
Wednesday, Dec 12, 2018


SONIC 5 @ Lobby Bar at Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Atlantic City, Atlantic City - 7:00pm

Live Band Karaoke w/ the Goldenboyz @ Crossroads (Garwood), Garwood - 10:00pm

Holiday Season Celebration @ The Strand Theater, Lakewood - 7:00pm

Vienna Boys Choir @ Count Basie Center For The Arts, Red Bank - 7:30pm


Elf, The Musical @ Surflight Theatre, Beach Haven - 2:00pm

Irving Berlin's Holiday Inn @ Paper Mill Playhouse, Millburn - 7:00pm

View all events


For more on our awards, click here

New Jersey Stage © 2018 by Wine Time Media, LLC | PO Box 140, Spring Lake, NJ 07762 (732) 280-7625 |

Images used on this site have been sent to us from publicists, artists, and PR firms.
If there is a problem with the rights to any image, please contact us and we will look into the matter.