Winnetka native, New Trier graduate and country music singer Jessica Rae has been a successful musician since she first picked up the violin at age 4 — but she didn’t start singing in public until she was 23 years old.
“I joined a traveling group [playing violin] when I was 12 and I was world traveled by 17,” Rae said. “I continued my education at Michigan State and I graduated with a violin performance degree, but after college I realized that I had no idea what I would do with that major.”
Rae moved back to Chicago where she worked in advertising and sales. When Rae was 23 her grandmother, who was a singer herself, passed away and Rae was asked to sing at her funeral.
“That was the first time I’d ever sang in public,” she said. “I always sing in the car or the shower like everyone does but…I did this to honor my grandmother. It was something of a life-changing moment for me — I was like, ‘this is what I am supposed to do.’”
Rae recorded a few songs and sent them around to her contacts in the music industry. A few months later she got a call from a man in the music industry in Los Angeles, encouraging her to move to Nashville and pursue singing as a career. Six months later, she did.
Rae’s music is a fusion of country, pop and rock, and she said that this is a great time for cross-over artists in country music.
“As of today, country music isn’t the country music that a lot of people think of anymore,” she said. “There are a lot of artists like Taylor Swift who pushed doors open for country to be more pop, to be more commercial.”
Rae comes from an artistic family — her dad is a painter/filmmaker who used to teach art, and her mother, Beth Skillicorn, is a visual artist.
“I can count on my hand how many of my shows they’ve missed,” Rae said, noting that their support for her career has been “incredible.”
Rae also sings the national anthem at Chicago Bulls games in front of 20,000 fans (and will be singing at Thursday’s game against the New York Knicks).
“It’s the only show that I get nervous for,” she said.
Rae’s next major project is her third studio album, a project that she funded through the online fundraiser Kickstarter. The project has currently raised $15,000 so far and ends on Wednesday. The $15,000 will go toward the studio time, the musicians, the producer, the engineers, the mastering of the album and the album artwork.
While the project has met its stated goal, further funding will go toward the production of a music video and other promotion.
"The Kickstarter campaign has been very vulnerable," she said. "You have to put yourself out there to see if there's enough people who believe in me and believe in my project."
At the time of publication, Rae has raised $16,167.
Rae will be performing a free show at the Rock House in Wilmette on Wednesday from 8 p.m. until 10 p.m. She will also be touring the area this summer, and is available for house concerts — an innovative idea where she will play in people’s homes for their friends and family.
“It’s a really cool way to entertain your friends,” she said about the house concerts. “And it’s a really cool way to share an experience [with the artist] — you can talk to them and learn about the process.”