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Jennings Sunday: Musician, 11, first-stringer

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Bluegrass musician Kyle Ramey had gained a lot of admirers over the years.

The North Vernon resident has been invited repeatedly by some of the biggest names in country music, including Ricky Skaggs, to jam with them on stage.

Kyle, a fifth-grader at North Vernon Elementary School and the son of Scott and Pam Ramey, celebrated his 11th birthday Tuesday by entertaining residents at a retirement home.

His next public concert will be at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Senior Resources Center, 515 Buckeye St., North Vernon.

“It feels special whenever you do something good for somebody,” Kyle said. “They might not be doing too good, and I’d do just about anything to help them out.”

Danny Roberts, an original member of the nationally touring Grascals bluegrass band, said Ramey is “one of the most promising pickers that I’ve ever seen or heard,” according to a post by Roberts on the website for the Jennings County-based White’s Deer Creek Band.

Kyle has performed before crowds of more than 10,000 bluegrass music lovers. He’s played in most states east of the Mississippi River and south of the Mason-Dixon line. He performed in Nashville, Tenn., at the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music Association’s annual convention.

Elsewhere, Kyle was named Entertainer of the Year for two consecutive years at the Old-Time Fiddlers’ Jamboree east of Nashville. And when he played six instruments in six competitions at a Kentucky bluegrass festival, Kyle took first place in every contest — three years in a row.

But when asked about the label both admirers and fellow musicians frequently place upon him, Kyle shrugged his shoulders with disinterest.

“A lot of people call me a child prodigy,” Kyle said. “I don’t know halfway what that means.”

According to the National Association of Gifted Children, a child prodigy is someone who, at an early age, develops one or more skills at a level far beyond the norm for their age. A prodigy has to be a child who is performing at the level of a highly trained adult in a demanding field of endeavor.

Kyle field of endeavor is every stringed instrument featured in a bluegrass band: dobro (a resonator guitar), acoustic guitar, fiddle, bass, banjo and mandolin.

And those six may only be the beginning.

“Even if I don’t know what the instrument is, I can play a song on it,” Kyle said in a matter-of-fact way. “I can play the strings and figure out where everything is.”

His family, which includes grandparents Lelon and Janice Ramey, recognized Kyle’s immense talent a year before he entered kindergarten. Days after picking up Lelon Ramey’s mandolin for the first time, Kyle, then 4, already was teaching himself chords by ear.

“If I play wrong notes, it just stands out really bad,” Kyle said. “So I’ve been working my whole life trying to find which chords go together.”

With his grandfather’s guidance, Kyle was playing entire songs in a matter of weeks.

“He don’t need any sheet music in order to play a song,” Lelon Ramey said. “If you can hum it, he can play it.”

When he was still 4, Kyle approached Jennings County musician James White at a performance by White’s Deer Creek Band and asked if he’d like to perform “Little Georgia Rose” together.

White, who thought a youngster with a mandolin would look cute on-stage, agreed to the suggestion.

“Kyle kicked the song off, and the band as well as the crowd was soon in total shock,” White wrote on his website.

At age 6, Kyle released his first CD, “A Boy and His Mandolin.” Three years later, he followed it with a second release, “No Limits.” A third CD is being produced in Ashland, Ky.

While vacations and weekends are largely taken up with touring and performing, Kyle isn’t complaining.

“It’s my life, and I love it,” he said. ”Hopefully, it’s going to be my future.”

But Kyle’s present circumstances include spending many days in with classmates who struggle to understand his exceptional gift.

“Other kids sometimes tease me about my talent,” he said. “People think my life is weird. But I don’t think it’s that weird, because (playing music) just comes so naturally.”

Kyle is the first to admit that, apart from his musical talent, he’s a normal preteen who has loved fishing for as long as he can remember. When asked what he’s thinks about while playing, he said his mind often wanders to a fishing daydream.

“Whoa ... snagged a big one,” Kyle joked as he played a complicated riff on his banjo.

But Kyle also said he’s discovering new interests now that he’s beginning to celebrate double-digit birthdays.

“Yeah, there are girls on my mind now,” he said with a mix of both satisfaction and embarrassment. “I’ve got a girlfriend now, and she loves my music. But I’m just an average kid in school. I only get A’s and B-pluses. And if I didn’t know how to play music, I’d either play basketball or go to the moon.”

With the Kentucky basketball fan’s first 10 years now behind him, Kyle contemplated what the future might hold during his next 10 years.

“I keep thinking that bigger and better things are coming for me as I get older,” he said. “While music comes naturally for me, it still takes hard work. But I see my picking getting better. I also see myself going more places and meeting more people, accomplishing more awards and everything.”

During Monday’s interview, he noticed glances from older family members who strive to keep the young musical prodigy grounded with chores and academic standards.

“Well ... I hope that’s what’s going to happen,” Kyle said.

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