PEPPERELL -- In New England, there isn't a huge country music scene, but it's important for New England's Country Sweetheart.
Country Kimberly, as she is more commonly known, was awarded first place in the female vocal category at the North American Country Music Association International in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., in March. One of the competition's highest honors marked the culmination of the past six years, over which she has been competing with New England Country Music Organization, a local nonprofit that serves to promote, preserve and teach about gospel, bluegrass, and country music.
Kimberly's accolades with that group include back-to-back-to-back years of Best Female Vocalist and Best Female Entertainer.
Country Kimberly is no stranger to performing locally. She grew up in Pepperell and has performed at the Fourth of July Parade, farmers markets, fundraisers and sang the national anthem on Public Safety Day.
Her children and family still live in town and she currently resides in Lunenburg. During her time in the North Middlesex School District, she began singing in school and church choirs.
"It wasn't until I was older that I began singing in front of crowds professionally," Kimberly said.
Smaller crowds at restaurants and lounges encouraged her to continue. As a solo act, she purchased a PA system for her backing band and never looked back.
"Apart from providing venues for country music to be held, NECMO is great because
And travel she did. In her first three years of competing locally, Country Kimberly won female vocalist of the year in new country and traditional categories. By 2009 she had received accolades in Rhode Island and won most promising female entertainer and the horizon award at NACMAI.
"I love competitions. Before I began I always had a fear of crowds, but now my performance energy thrives off them," Kimberly said.
A bigger crowd, such as those at competitions, are more likely to be there to see her, whereas with smaller groups, she can see who is connecting and who isn't.
"There is always a fear," Kimberly said. "It's because I take songs into my heart and I am worried about showing a crowd my emotion, showing them something from deep within, and getting their response."
Since starting out, Country Kimberly has won in the categories of new country and traditional styles. New country refers to styles that have become more popular over the last 20 years, fusing traditional folk roots with rock and pop styles. Traditional, which Country Kimberly grew up listening to, tends to be pre-1980.
Among her favorites are Alan Jackson, Patsy Cline, Tanya Tucker, Shania Twain, Trisha Yearwood and Pam Tillis. But Kimberly says Grand Ole Opry star Jeanne Pruett is the most influential singer she's heard.
Pruett's "Satin Sheets" spent three weeks at number one on the Country Billboard charts in 1973. In 2010 she was the emcee for Hall of Fame night at NAMCAI.
"I went looking and got a chance to meet her; I told her I was competing," Kimberly said.
For her eight-minute set she had chosen "Satin Sheets."
"She is a beautiful soul, I told her I hope I do her song justice," she said.
Kimberly got a photo and autograph but, most of all, was enchanted by the meeting. Getting a chance to meet Pruett, she said, was because she stuck with her passion for singing and competition.
Of course, she wasn't always as lauded a performer as she is now. An encouraging friend once told her: "God has given you a gift and you should be proud to share that gift."
"I still feel that way, spiritually connected to God, my performing is a big part of what he's given me," Kimberly said. "I got to this later in life. It doesn't pay and I work full time. I wouldn't ever be on reality TV, but that doesn't stop me.
"I am an entertainer; my age doesn't stop me. I am young at heart."
For now, she says the competitions have taken her as far as she wants to go. Her future plans include playing regularly with a band. The members include Hank Martin, a fellow singer she met in Townsend at a concert on the common.
In 2008, she and Hank began teaming up for competitions and the following year won Duo of the Year at a regional competition.
"Hank and I have become buddies, and I am excited to have the band start up," Kimberly said.
As for an album, she says the funding isn't there right now, but many performances are coming up this year.
She will also be performing at the third annual Ride for Sherry's House motorcycle run on July 15 in Hudson.
For information, visit CountryKimberly.com.
Follow Luke Steere at twitter.com/lsnashobapub.