A Musical Life

by Michael Purdy
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Ellie Holcomb

Ellie Holcomb (’06) has been singing since she could talk.

“My parents always said I lived my life like it was a musical,” Holcomb says.

That mentality and way of life has paid off for Holcomb, who recorded two EPs of songs based on the Psalms and other scriptures, both of which hit No. 1 on the iTunes Christian/Gospel charts. She recently released her first full-length album, As Sure as the Sun, and was named Best New Artist at the GMA Dove Awards.

Holcomb, who graduated in 2005 with a BS in English and in 2006 with a master’s in secondary education from the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences, taught eighth-grade language arts at East Literature Magnet School in Nashville for a year before going fulltime as a singer-songwriter and collaborator with her husband Drew Holcomb (’03 A&S) and his band Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors.

She was recently honored, along with her husband, as an Alumni Promise Award winner. Find out more about Holcomb and her musical life in her own words.


When did you start writing songs and singing?
I started writing and performing songs in high school, but I think I started singing
as soon as I could talk.

What was the first song you ever wrote?
I actually wrote a melody to Psalm 108 when I was in high school.

How many songs have you written?
Somewhere in the neighborhood of 200. I won’t say that they are all good, but I’m
a firm believer that you have to write the bad ones to get to the good ones.

What’s your favorite line you’ve ever written, and why is it your favorite?
“You took my shame and You walked out of the grave, so Your love can take broken
things and make them beautiful.”

I love this line because it’s truly what I’ve seen God do in my story. He has taken
the most messed up parts of my life and brought healing, light, and hope to very
dark places where I never expected to see Him. An empty grave is evidence
that Jesus was a man of sorrows, well acquainted with grief and death, but who
overcame death so that we could know we’re never alone and that death and
brokenness do not have to be the end of our stories.

How did it feel to win a Dove Award? Where do you keep it?
I am still shocked, humbled, honored, and elated! I never dreamed I’d even be
nominated for an award like that, so to win it still feels surreal. It’s currently on a
bookshelf in our living room.


Why did you decide to become a teacher?
I had several teachers who made an incredible impact in my life, and it made
me want to do the same thing.

How was your time as a teacher?
It was never boring! I loved teaching and getting to call good things out of students.
As an English and language arts teacher, it was a joy to watch my students find their
voices as they learned to write.

What did you learn in your master’s program at CEHHS that has helped you in your current career pursuit?
I learned that students respond better when they figure out that you genuinely
care about them. This laid a foundation of respect and empathy that I’ve carried into
my career as a songwriter and performer. It’s easy to feel like a show is all about you
when you’re up on a stage, but teaching showed me a different way. I learned over
the course of my master’s program that I wanted to use any platform I ever had,
whether it be a classroom or a stage, to serve and love people well.


How did you meet your husband?
We met at a mutual friend’s house in the Fort. I was a freshman and had no
idea I was meeting my future husband that night.

How is it to tour with your husband?
It’s wonderful. We both love to travel, and it was so good for us to spend that much
time together. It’s also hard, but the kind of hard that makes you have to fight for a
marriage. We learned early on how to have conflict and how to fight well because we
were together so much.

What was the inspiration for your children’s names, Emmylou and Huck?
Drew asked me out on our first date while we were at an Emmylou Harris concert in
Oxford, Mississippi. We both fell in love with literature reading Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, so Huck felt like a perfect name for our boy.


What do you miss most about Knoxville?
The Great Smoky Mountains, Gus’s Good Times Deli, and UT football games.

Where was your favorite place to go on campus to get away from it all?
The stairwells in Hodges Library. You sound like an angel when you sing
in those stairwells.

Photography courtesy of Ellie Holcomb