January 9, 2019 | Katherine Adams
When Emi Sunshine was 9 years old, she was singing and playing the ukulele at a flea market when a random passer-by videoed her. Her performance was uploaded to YouTube and went viral. Now a critically acclaimed 14-year-old singer and songwriter, Emi has shared her exceptional talents on stages around the country and on national television, and will play her unique bluegrass-Americana sound at University of Houston-Clear Lake’s Bayou Theater on Sunday, Feb. 3, at 2 p.m.
“That YouTube video led to me getting invited to play at the ‘Today’ show and it kickstarted my career,” said Emi, who’s a native of East Tennessee. “I played the same song that was in the YouTube video, ‘Blue Yodel.’ And now we are really close to the person who posted the video. She’s a great fan.”
Emi said she comes from generations of musicians, and that playing music together was a regular event in her family. “I grew up with lots of inspirations,” she said. “I listened to Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton, but then I loved listening to Amy Winehouse and Queen. I got the freedom to listen to all kinds of music and I fell in love with all of it.”
Emi plays the ukulele most often, but has also mastered the guitar and the mandolin. “I learned the ukulele at age 7 and I love it,” she said. “People think it’s a toy, but it’s my main instrument.”
Last spring, Emi made another national television appearance performing on “Little Big Shots,” a hit NBC show hosted by comedian Steve Harvey that showcases the talent of young children. “He is a very humble, kind person,” she said. “Getting to meet him was like meeting an old friend.”
And although she now considers herself a seasoned entertainer, she knows that many audiences think she’s “just a kid.” This does not bother her, she said. “We get that a lot, but I write songs from my heart. I write about my experiences and others’ experiences. That’s where I show people my heart.”
Among her favorite topics to write about, she added, are murder-ballads. “I love murder-ballads. They’re such great stories. Beautiful, but gruesome. And I am inspired to write for my friends. I have a song called ‘90 Miles’ about autism, because I have a friend with autism. People don’t understand what’s going on, and I think if they did, we’d have a better world.”
Emi said she performs about 150 dates a year with her family, who is also her band. “My dad, my uncle and my brother are my band,” she said. “I’d call my concert an emotional roller coaster. You’ll get a lot of laughs with my family, but there’s also a lot of heartache in the stories I tell.”
For tickets and more information about events at the Bayou Theater, visit www.uhcl.edu/bayou-theater/events-tickets.