Hampton High School graduate’s passion for music goes professional

When Vanessa Cox graduated from Hampton High School, she went to East Tennessee State University to study speech pathology. She still kept her love of music, however, and lately the possibility of a music career has increased dramatically.

Just last week, Cox went to Nashville’s CMA Center to take part in a Young Soloists competition, the second time she has participated.

“I had my mother to handle the business side of it,” Cox said. “I placed second last year, and they reached out to me to participate again this year.”

The event has participants submit videos of themselves performing, which the judges then narrow down to eight finalists, who then travel to Nashville to perform live to determine the scholarship winners.

This time around, Cox said she won a $500 scholarship, a commemorative trophy and a chance to record two songs in a professional studio in Nashville.

“That was nerve-wracking,” Cox said. “Recording on my own is definitely more relaxed. You are more in control.”

The experience, however, was an eye-opener, she said, as it forced her out of her comfort zone in how she approached her music.

“I was able to push my voice to new limits,” she said.

Another opportunity to expand her horizons came from an ordinary grocery store trip in an Ingles, when Cox ran into the father of a former classmate.

Blake Haggard was a classmate of Cox who graduated a year ahead of her.

“He quit football to go into music,” she said. “He has followers all over the world.”

This was why it was a surprise when Haggard’s father approached her in  Ingles, asking her to perform as a female vocalist for a song Haggard was working on. It was an even bigger surprise when she learned she was going to be paid to be part of the song.

“I was going to do it for free,” she said. “I had never thought about music in a business sense.”

When the single, Drift into the Sun, went live on Spotify and iTunes, she described the experience as incredible.

“I was so amazed at seeing my picture on the screen,” Cox said. “I had a lot of hometown support. Everyone was commenting on my picture. It was my first sense of fame.”

This has led Cox, only a freshman in college pursuing a degree far removed from the arts, down a road of self-reflection.

“Is God really choosing me for all this?” she said. “Anything I do, I want to give God the glory.”

In a sense, this is Cox’s first venture into the world of professional music, and after forming connections with producers during her time in Nashville, she said she wants to continue exploring the possibilities in front of her.

“I would love to have the ability to connect with the right people in the industry,’ she said. “I have no experience in the ‘simple things.’”

No matter what the future may hold for her, Cox said she wants to use her gifts to inspire as many people as she can, whether in music or otherwise.

“I want to be a blessing to others,” she said. “I am not singing for myself. I want to bring joy to others. […] I want to be the best for them.”

As for her music, though her horizons have broadened in the past year, she said her heart will always be in the country and gospel music she grew up with.

“I still am happy singing gospel and country,” Cox said. “That is who I am. I want to continue down this path.”

She said she wants to give people back home pride in their community using these opportunities.

“No one expects it,” Cox said. “It gives people a sense of hope and pride in this part of the U.S.”

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