There are very few singers who cause a rush of emotion just with the singing of the national anthem. Oh, they can impress a crowd blasting, "And the rockets red glare" at an octave range so high that dogs cringe - but it doesn't bring the flood of feelings that comes when the singer really believes in the lyrics.
Cassy and Alyssa Gaddis, 17 and 14 respectively, of Springfield and soon of Nashville, "bring it" when they sing the national anthem and cause a burst of patriotic pride. Honestly, if they tried, they could probably bring a crowd to tears singing "Happy Birthday."
The two teens have voices so sweet, true and pure, it's almost a shame to add instruments when they sing. The recent success of a song they wrote and sang for the National Guard has moved their musical dreams into fast forward.
They have moved to Nashville with their mother, Annette, while their father, Jim, stays in Springfield continuing his career with the National Guard. In February they received news that Blackbird Studios in Nashville would produce four original songs. Blackbird is owned by Martina and John McBride and studio clients include Rascal Flatts and Taylor Swift.
The Gaddis sisters, born at Scott Air Force Base in the Belleville area, have firsthand experience with military deployments because their dad, a command chief warrant officer with the Illinois National Guard, attends a lot of deployment ceremonies, and the girls go along.
Alyssa wrote a song called "Price of Peace." The song tells the story of a little girl who watches her father go off to war and waits for his return. It symbolizes the emotional and physical sacrifices those who go off to war make, as well as the sacrifices of those who stay behind.
State Farm Insurance and the National Guard sponsored the song. It was recorded for distribution at a studio in Nashville, and it started playing in movie theaters in May of last year on Memorial Day. It was shown in Illinois, California, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland, Georgia, Texas and Washington, D.C., which are the states that have the most soldiers deployed overseas.
Since then, interest in the Gaddis sisters has exploded. They've appeared at military events all over the nation, including opening for Lee Greenwood and actor/singer Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band. The mementos from their appearances fill a large dining room table.
There are autographed pictures with Sinise, Greenwood, some hunky looking professional wrestlers like John Cena, thank-you notes from military officials and crayoned thank you notes from the sons and daughters of military personnel.
The adoring notes from the children of military personnel, especially the girls, talk about how well the two sing and how much the little girls want to be like them.
The two are comfortable being role models.
"Somebody has to do it," Cassy said. "It might as well be us. The military kids are grateful they are getting a voice they never had. Having a parent in the military makes everything, including school, harder."
The two girls sit perched on chairs in the dining room answering questions about writing music, singing and their planned move to Nashville.
Cassy does most of the talking because "she's the oldest" says Alyssa, and Cassy says Alyssa is a child prodigy because she wrote "Price of Peace" when she was only 12. Although Alyssa sits quietly, she's got a glint in her eye that seems to say if a stray fake tarantula lands in someone's bed, she probably put it there.
They play well off of each other, both singing and just naturally. They are enthusiastic about a new song they are working on that talks about adult role models in the lives of young people.
"The song branches out more into the leadership aspects that adults take," Alyssa said.
Already aware that the two of them make a whole, they complete each other's sentences and talk about songwriting as a collaboration.
"I don't think we have sibling rivalry," Alyssa said.
"We share clothes and jewelry already," Cassy interjects. "It works out because I'm the control freak, and Alyssa has a sense of humor."
In the next room, their mother, Annette, talks about the move and lets her daughters answer questions on their own. Annette Gaddis may be managing their careers, but she's not a hovering stage mother, and she's pretty sure she's not ever going to be that way.
The three Gaddis women together are like bright, exotic birds. As they start talking over each other and the conversation is punctuated with laughter, James Gaddis just watches and smiles. He is like the proud papa bear, strong and silent.
"We're high-maintenance and we know it," says one of the girls, and his smile grows broader.
His pride is tempered with a little apprehension. His wife and his daughters are headed to Music City, and he will have to lead from a distance.
"I think things are going so well and the girls are so grounded - sometimes I have to pinch myself to see if it's real," Annette said.
"We have met some fabulous people in the past year," James adds. "People we trust in the music industry. They will support them, and they would be crazy not to take advantage of an opportunity that might not happen again."
"I don't want them to go - it's like an emotional roller coaster, but they've got good heads on their shoulders, and I'm still their dad and Annette is still their mom. We are just smart enough to know there are things we don't know about, so we will have to depend on people we trust to help the girls," he said.
"I think God has a bigger plan for them," he added.
Since the girls were small they've wanted to be involved in music. Their beautiful voices, accompanied by their own guitar work, soar without amplification to fill the family's huge great room with a lush, rich sound. Their voices come from their father, Annette said.
"He's got a great voice when he sings, and people don't even realize that," she said.
Why the Gaddis girls feel the need to sing, hopefully as a profession, has a simple explanation if you ask them.
"The way I look at it, we don't play sports, this is what we do best - sing," Alyssa said.
"Life's a journey and you have to make your own way," Cassy said.
They didn't just get to where they are by magic, they both add.
"People e-mail us and ask, how can we do what you are doing, and we tell them - you just have to sing," Cassy said. "Sing everywhere you can. We've sung at the Festival of Trees, at the Walk for Diabetes. We've sung at every nursing home here and all around here. You just have to keep singing."
Alyssa adds as an aside to their mother, "Don't worry, Mama; when you are in the home, we will come and sing for you," and the whole family laughs.
So far the favorite person they have met is Gary Sinise.
"He's very down to earth and he was nice and talked to us like a person, not like someone famous," Cassy said.
"He uses his fame in a positive way, and that's why we like Martina McBride because she tries to tell a story and give a message in her songs," Alyssa added.
Cassy has graduated and Alyssa will finish her education, Annette said.
Faith, family, love and music will hold the Gaddis family together through the miles between Springfield and Nashville. They hope all their dreams come true, and a statement by Alyssa sums things up nicely.
"Life is too short not to try and make your dreams come true."
Check out video by State Journal-Register photographer T.J. Salsman of Cassy and Alyssa Gaddis singing in their home.
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Story published Friday, March 5, 2010 ( Volume 5, Number 2 )