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13-year-old Phoebe the Yodeling Cowgirl hits #7 in the Western Music chart

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

A rare talent has propelled a 13-year-old Kentucky singer into the Western music charts. Phoebe White has been yodeling for audiences for nearly half her life. Cheri Lawson of member station WEKU has more.

PHOEBE WHITE: (Playing guitar). OK, there we go.

CHERI LAWSON, BYLINE: It's easy to smile when you hear Phoebe White.

PHOEBE: (Yodeling).

LAWSON: She sits with her acoustic guitar in the music room at her rural Kentucky home. There are several stringed musical instruments lined up on one wall. This song is from her album, "UnXpected."

PHOEBE: (Singing) Whatever happened to the yodeling cowgirls that rode across the silver screen?

LAWSON: The giggling teen wears a pair of denim overalls. She says she likes everything cowgirl. She also likes cheesecake and cookies and the family dog they call Kenny Rogers. But most of all, she likes to perform in front of people.

PHOEBE: (Singing) And they go (yodeling).

I just love yodeling. I love making the audience smile 'cause it's something different, and when I see people smile or just see them happy, it just makes me so happy.

LAWSON: It was the song "Blue" by country singer LeAnn Rimes that inspired Phoebe to learn how to yodel. She was just 8 years old when she heard it on the way home from vacation. More inspiration quickly followed from old-time yodelers like Jimmie Rodgers and Patsy Montana. Phoebe's mom and manager, Tiffany White, sits close by as her daughter demonstrates a few different types of yodeling patterns.

PHOEBE: My first yodel I ever learned was (yodeling). And then the next yodel I learned was (yodeling).

LAWSON: Tiffany says it was a complete surprise to learn recently that Phoebe's album made the Western music charts. They saw it when they got the spring edition of The Western Way.

TIFFANY WHITE: I was stunned because she just released the album, and I was flipping through the magazine. I didn't know that she would be on the charts at all, much less No. 7. So that was exciting, very exciting.

LAWSON: When she was 7 years old, Phoebe told her mom she wanted to sing for an audience and be entered in competitions. She's won 24 talent contests. The bubbly teenager can sing different genres but prefers what she calls cowboy or Western music. Phoebe also plays several instruments by ear.

PHOEBE: I play piano. I play 12-string guitar. I play guitar. I play banjo, ukulele and mandolin, and I'm learning fiddle right now.

LAWSON: Phoebe says she's become friends with the Grammy-winning Western music and comedy group Riders In The Sky. The Grand Ole Opry members sang three tracks with Phoebe on her new album. They even changed the title of their big hit, "Jesse The Yodeling Cowgirl," to "Phoebe The Yodeling Cowgirl" when they sing with her.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PHOEBE THE YODELING COWGIRL")

RIDERS IN THE SKY: (Singing) They call her Phoebe, the yodeling cowgirl.

PHOEBE: (Singing) As dainty as a fairy.

LAWSON: That song was written by Riders In The Sky's Ranger Doug. He's also known for his yodeling and has given Phoebe a few tips.

RANGER DOUG: Well, I think she's just really beginning. She laid the groundwork starting at age 8 to 13, and she has plenty of developing yet to do. She's going to be a major talent.

PHOEBE: Hold on to your hats, partners. (Yodeling).

LAWSON: Phoebe White is already planning her next album. She's hoping to write all the songs. Over the summer, she's scheduled to perform in Kentucky, Tennessee and Ohio. For NPR News, I'm Cheri Lawson in London, Ky.

PHOEBE: (Yodeling). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Cheri is WEKU's Arts Reporter covering stories in northern and central Kentucky.