LEAD, S.D. (AP) — Sixteen-year-old Delaney Johnston, of Lead, said she felt an "overwhelming sense of joy" sweep over her when she stepped on stage last month to become the youngest-ever inductee into the South Dakota Country Music Hall of Fame.
And what she's demonstrated so far in her short life and brief country music career suggests nothing less than an overwhelming sense of accomplishment.
"When I first got the call I was very shocked because I totally wasn't expecting it," Johnston said of her notification to join the class of 2019 inductees. "When I was up on stage accepting the award, I had this overwhelming sense of joy."
Chair of the South Dakota Country Music Hall of Fame Board of Directors Wini Iverson said she has been following Johnston's career for a long time and first saw her sing with Sherwin and Pam Linton several years ago.
"She impressed me with her ability to sing with such a high-quality show at such a young age," Iverson told the Black Hills Pioneer. "Delaney has made great strides in her musical career playing at county fairs and going on tour with Sherwin and Pam. We opened a new category for her due to her youth by introducing the Rising Star Award and hoping to encourage other youngsters to begin their music career at an early age. This young lady had achieved a lot in her young life all while maintaining an excellent academic score."
"Delaney is a role model for other youngsters who are trying to break into the music business," Iverson said. "It is a difficult task for adults to make it to stardom, but this young lady has a wonderful start. I am excited for her and I hope to see her continue her music career on stage and will continue to follow her career."
Johnston, who began her amateur country music career at the tender young age of 8, has performed everywhere from South Shore to Nashville, Tennessee, all across the Midwest, and even a couple of gigs in Europe over the summer.
"I've been singing with Sherwin and Pam Linton of Minneapolis (Minnesota) for eight years," Johnston said. "I went to a show in Labolt, South Dakota, and Sherwin and Pam were playing. I went up and requested 'Jackson' by Johnny (Cash) and June (Carter Cash) and Sherwin says to this day, he just sensed something (in the girl), so he invited me up on stage to sing with him. Then they invited me to the South Dakota State Fair and from there, it's history."
She has performed with them hundreds of times.
Sherwin Linton is a 60-year-old folk, country, and rockabilly music performer known for telling "The Johnny Cash Story."
"She was a very brave little girl to walk up to the stage, requesting to hear her favorite Johnny Cash/June Carter song 'Jackson,'" said Holly Johnston, Delaney's Johnston's mother. "I was not at that show because I was on the road with Jason (Delaney's father) at the time. He was a trucker. My mom called me after the show and said 'You're not going to believe what your little girl just did.' I admit I was very surprised. I always knew that she was musical from a very young age, and Johnny Cash was definitely her music of choice."
Delaney Johnston confirmed that rumor.
Her favorite artist?
"Johnny Cash," Delaney Johnston said. "It's just his music."
"Her preschool teacher used to tell me how she was always singing Johnny Cash songs in class," Holly Johnston said.
And to be clear, Delaney Johnston is a fan of a certain genre of country music.
"I like classic country," she said matter-of-factly. "The musicality is so much more original. I have grown up listening to it. It's always been a love of mine."
Sherwin Linton and the Cotton Kings are purveyors of authentic country music, which suits Johnston's style just fine.
"She has loved country music since she was very little," Holly Johnston said. "She used to stay with my mom a lot and she loved classic country. Delaney developed that same love of classic country."
While Delaney does perform with Sherwin Linton, she also performs as a solo act, often strumming her guitar while crooning those good old classic country tunes.
Linton, also a South Dakota Country Music Hall of Fame member, helped Johnston cut two CDs of classic country tunes, "I'm Little But I'm Loud," made when she was 10 years old, and "You're Looking At Country," two years later.
The first album won an award for "Young Country Artist CD of the Year 2015" from the Rural Roots Music Commission.
While Delaney Johnston sings alto, she is blessed with a four-octave range.
"So I can sing just about anything," she said. "I'm possibly going down to Nashville for a month this summer, possibly performing at the Nashville Night Life Theater every night."
Delaney Johnston has previously performed at the Nashville Night Life Theater two times — once in fifth-grade, and once a couple of weeks ago.
"I performed with Tommy Cash, Johnny Cash's brother," she said. "In my music career, that's my favorite thing I've done."
So, does Delaney Johnston get nervous prior to performing and up on stage?
"The only time I get nervous is when I'm singing something new," she said. "These old songs are just wired in my head. They just stay with me."
Her mother agreed.
"From the very beginning of singing on stage she felt comfortable. She never got nervous, she was just having fun," Holly Johnston said.
Delaney Johnston said the most rewarding part of performing is definitely the reaction from the audience.
"Seeing how supportive some people can be," she said. "It's funny to watch people out in the crowds sometimes and the smiles it puts on their faces. It's just great."
While Delaney Johnston, currently a junior at Lead-Deadwood High School, would like to become a music teacher upon graduating, she's keeping the door to a full-blown singing career open, as well.
"I'd like to continue performing on a smaller level," she said. "I don't want to be some big famous person, but I'm always going to have a love for music, so I need to keep it in my life."
Holly and Jason Johnston are staunch supporters of their daughter, her dedication, and true talent.
"I can't even express how proud we are of her for her accomplishments in music and performing at only age 16," Holly Johnston said. "To be the youngest inductee to the South Dakota Country Music Hall of Fame is amazing. That she has kept a level head and stayed humble through it all makes us even more proud."
Information from: Black Hills Pioneer, http://www.bhpioneer.com
An AP Member Exchange Feature shared by Black Hills Pioneeer