Sonia Leigh’s big music biz break is the stuff dreams are made of. While recording demos at a local studio, she caught the ear of a record label talent scout who was interested in developing her as an artist. Her dad thought she was too young to be trying to make it as a musician—Leigh was only 14 at the time. Nearly 10 years later, she’s still trying to make a career out of that happenstance meeting.
“I kept his number,” says Leigh with a laugh from her Atlanta home, “and when I was 17, I took a little more control over my career. He remembered me, and he hooked me up with a producer. Everything just started happening like it was supposed to be, kind of like being in the right place at the right time.”
Leigh, a singer/songwriter who cut her teeth playing onstage with Georgia luminaries such as Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles and Kristin Hall, has been playing guitar for as long as she can remember, whether it was the toy six-strings or the first “real” guitar that her father finally gave her when she was about 11 years old. He’d learned from his father, and had played in gospel bands, so by the time little Sonia was demanding her own guitar, it was obvious that the family tradition would continue.
“He really didn’t have to do anything to inspire me to actually play it because I wanted to do it so badly,” says Leigh. “I was always bugging him to let me use his guitars so he finally got me a real one. I had to prove to him that I was serious, so I would practice every day after school. He would just basically show me chords and I would practice them. It was my favorite pastime. … I would go on my own and lock myself in my room and then just come out for supper.”
Roots and Swagger
Leigh’s style reflects her early love for classic country music like Willie Nelson, as well as the many holidays and vacations she sat around playing guitar with her father and grandfather. But while her heart may be in rootsy Americana and blues, artists such as Jackson Browne, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen fuel her passion and inform her charismatic personality onstage.
“I write a lot of different styles of music,” says Leigh. “But I think there is something in my blood that will always have a hint of what I grew up on coming out in my style. I am very blessed to have come from a musical family, and I don’t know how it could be any other way.”
Having made her name mostly as a solo performer, Leigh has had a core circle of friends helping her in the studio and on the road supporting her cause around the Southeast. Her fiddle player, Levi Lowery (great-grandson of Gid Tanner) has long been her right-hand man, and acts like the Zac Brown Band are like a second family to her.
“We’ve grown so much together. I play with a lot of different musicians, but right now I’ve got a pretty good team around me. They all help me get to where I’m going.” With so much promise so soon in her career, has it been hard to be patient for bigger success to come?
“Not at all,” says Leigh matter-of-factly. “It’s been amazing, the chain of events, really. I think that creating a strong connection with the people who appreciate my music is very important, and it is so moving to see an audience singing along to my songs. So many people have believed in me and supported me on my music road; it is an un-repayable debt in my eyes,” she says. “If it takes longer and harder to maintain something that is going to last forever, then I’d rather have that than a hit. I want to make a long-term career out of it.”