Durham Academy teacher lands a duet with Vince Gill

dmenconi@newsobserver.comFebruary 25, 2013 

From left, Vince Gill, Elizabeth South and Billy Smiley, South's producer & co-writer for the "I Love You" song featuring Gill.

COURTESY OF ELIZABETH SOUTH

Sometimes long shots do come in. Elizabeth South, who teaches music and drama at Durham Academy when she’s not singing, will never doubt that again.

Last year, South was working on her new album, “I Love You” ( ElizabethSouth.com), when Vince Gill’s name came up. She and producer Billy Smiley agreed that Gill would be perfect as a duet partner on the album’s title track, which they had co-written.

South isn’t signed to a label and doesn’t have a manager, so she wasn’t expecting much when Smiley sent Gill a recording of “I Love You” to see if he’d be interested in singing on it. To her delighted surprise, Gill – a Country Music Hall of Famer who has won 20 Grammy Awards and has sold 22 million albums over the past three decades – said yes.

“That stuff never happens to me,” South says. “I was completely shocked: ‘What?! You mean he actually responded?!’ I told him that in the studio, ‘I did not think you would respond.’ And he said, ‘But I did.’”

Gill joined South in Smiley’s Nashville studio in November to record vocals on “I Love You,” and South decided she might as well go for broke. With some sheepishness, she asked if she could film them singing together to use in a video. Ever the good sport, Gill agreed, and he even did a bit of mugging on-camera.

“There was no crew, the lighting wasn’t set up to make us look good,” South says. “I just plopped out my Canon 5D Mark 2. The professionals did the rest of the video.”

“I Love You” is South’s fifth independently released album, and her most mainstream to date. While she has done a fair amount of Christian music (and was also a two-time finalist in the News & Observer’s “Sunday Star” gospel contests a few years back), this one is secular and aimed at her students’ demographic.

“This record is dedicated to the kids I teach,” South says. “My kids love Katy Perry, so ‘Superstar’ is modeled after her. There’s another song that sounds like Lenny Kravitz, some other songs that are dance. It’s very eclectic, positive lyrics. I can play it for my students and everyone is, ‘Yeah!’ They love the fact I’m not taking off my clothes or doing sex scenes in videos. I think it’s important to be a balanced person. That’s the best example of a Christian that you can be.”

Given the do-it-yourself origins of her record, which is officially released this week, landing a big name like Gill qualifies as a major coup. Since she doesn’t have a marketing budget, South is trying to drum up views of the video on Youtube and her website.

Maybe the best part about Gill’s cameo is that it was freely given – literally.

“I always figured it would take knowing somebody to get something like this,” South says. “But he simply liked the song. I asked him how much he wanted and he said, ‘Nah, I don’t want anything.’ He was doing a good deed, I guess. We’ll see what happens.”

Menconi: 919-829-4759 or blogs.newsobserver.com/beat

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