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Front PageSeptember 27, 2007 

Leroy resident to appear on Grand Ole' Opry
By Kathryn F. Pickard

Ashton Shepherd
"I've been singing since I was little bitty," said Leroy resident and Coffeeville native Ashton Shepherd, who signed a record deal with Universal Records in April.

"When I was 3 or 4 years old I was always singing. I sang country music and gospel music in church. Mama and Daddy (Denise and Donnie Shepherd) always felt I had a knack for it and when I was about 8 years old they started putting me in showdowns. It's been a fun experience. Now I'm 21 years old and I've been doing it all my life," Ashton said.

In addition to singing Ashton writes the songs she performs. She says her biggest influences are the old country stars. When she first began performing she only sang Patsy Cline songs.

She began playing the guitar in July 2001 after her grandmother bought her a guitar and a chord sheet. "My brothers had urged me to play the guitar all my life. Then my grandmother bought me the guitar and chord sheet. I'd had a guitar that belonged to my mother when she was pregnant with me. I learned to play from using that chord sheet."

In 1999 she entered and won the regional Jimmy Dean Showdown, which is now the Colgate Country Showdown. She went on to compete at the state level but did not go any further.

Later she won the Jimmy Rogers competition and opened concerts for T.J. Shepherd, Ronnie Mc- Dowell and Tanya Tucker.

Last year she entered a showdown in Gilbertown. "I was sort of down about entering. At first I thought I had entered too late and then I got to thinking about how long it had been since I had entered a competition. But I won and I got to open for Lori Morgan. It just so happened her former producer heard me and liked what he heard. I gave him a CD with 12 of my original songs on it," she explained.

Soon she was called to Nashville where she performed three more original songs. Once she was offered a production deal she contacted a law firm for advice and has become very close friends with her attorney.

"The good Lord has steered us in the direction of meeting the right people. Knowing it's in the good Lord's hands is so special," she said.

"I can't believe I'm still here in Leroy. Ayear ago my husband, Roland Cunningham, was working seven- 12s on construction work and I was a stay-at-homemom with our son James. Now I'm doing radio interviews and I'm touring. My husband's parents (Rachel and Dale Cunningham) live next door and my parents live 30 minutes away in Coffeeville. I am so blessed to still be rooted here in Leroy."

Having their parents so close has made it easier for Ashton and Roland to make the necessary trips to Nashville and make the radio station tours knowing their son is in good hands.

"He loves music. He'll sit in the truck and make me turn on the CD. He's still too little to understand everything. He's been to Nashville with us a few times and I hope when I start touring the whole family will be able to go.

"My family has been very supportive, especially my husband. He goes everywhere with me and it's great that he gets to enjoy the ride with me. We're both getting to go more places than we've ever been before. That's how I know the good Lord is in this. I've always been a homebody, but it's been easy for me to travel. It's really been a good thing. It's a dream come true."

Her single, "Taking Off This Pain," has been distributed to radio stations and began playing this week. WINN 98, the radio station where her brother Scott Shepherd, once deejayed, also scheduled an interview with her this week.

She will perform on The Grand Ole Opry Sept. 29.

Her first album is expected to debut after the first of next year and Ashton hopes to begin touring at the beginning of the following year.

"I hope people will hear the single and like it and go out and buy the album," she laughed.

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