Music is family affair for Leela and Ellie Grace
Singer-songwriter sisters to perform Friday at CPAC
Ellie Grace claims that she and her sister Leela just didn’t know any better.
The pair is immersed in music and the performing arts. As a duo, they are recording and touring artists, multi-instrumentalists and dancers with a modern take on traditional acoustic music. Individually, they are writers, teachers and performers as well – Ellie leading a percussive dance ensemble and teaching dance classes, Leela teaching writing and singing.
Ellie told The Beat that, around the time she and her sister were born (they are separated by about a year), her parents decided to follow a dream of doing music as a career, and began touring the country as The Grace Family. She told of a photograph of her moth singing and playing on stage, with one of the infant sisters (it’s not confirmed which) on board in a backpack.
Indeed, she added, it began even before birth – “My mother was learning to play the accordion while she was pregnant with me,” Ellie said.
“We grew up with it and we thought the world was made up of people who made music,” Ellie explained. “We thought music was something everybody did. We would fall asleep in a circle of our parents’ friends playing music.”
By the time they were old enough to sing and dance, the sisters became a formal part of the group. Ellie began clogging lessons at age five, and while neither had formal music training, both added instruments to their singing and dancing by their early teens.
Ellie confessed that “we both certainly went though phases of Madonna and New Kids on the Block,” and that both explored the idea of doing other things as a career, but that making music was natural and comfortable, and that, “in some small way, we felt like we wanted to try and make the world a better place through music.”
In recent years, both sisters have moved from their Missouri roots to opposite coasts – Ellie to North Carolina, Leela to Oregon. Ellie said that, while it makes for some logistical fuss when recording, “time and distance don’t really make a difference the way we work together.”
“Is it because we’re siblings? Is it because we’re been playing music and dancing and writing and singing pretty much our whole lives? It’s pretty unique.”
That said, the two don’t collaborate much on songwriting – “We have only written two songs together,” she said, adding, “that people are allowed to hear.”
“We have very different sensibilities about writing and melody,” Ellie said. “But it’s great to have somebody you trust to provide feedback and work on arrangements.”
The sisters’ friendship remains as strong as ever – Ellie called touring, which the sisters do regularly, “subsidized hangout time.”
That tone translates to the shows, Ellie hopes.
“Having grown up on stage, the live show experience for us is like sitting around in a living room,” she said. “We hope the audience realizes how much a part of the experience they are.”
On stage, the sisters shift effortlessly from singing to dancing to conversation.
“We do a lot of different thing, because they are all a part of us and who we are,” Ellie said. “They seem to fit together in a comfortable way.”