Photograph of Jessica Bills Jessica Mills, Huntington, West Virginia, October 1997.  Photo by Geoff Eacker

JESSICA BILLS from Huntington, West Virginia, says that even before she was born her father announced “that he was gonna have a daughter that played the banjo.” Jessica fulfilled her fatherís prophecy and has been playing three-finger style bluegrass banjo since the age of eight. By junior high she was competing in the banjo contest at the Vandalia Festival in Charleston, West Virginia. “They always got a kick out of me. I always felt that I had a little bit of an advantage, just because Iím a woman and Iím young. They get tired of hearing all these old men play the same old stuff.”

Jessica attended Radford College in Virginia and has a degree in music therapy. She chose this field because it would allow her to combine her skill as a banjo player with a viable career. Even though she once dreamed of playing at the Grand Ole Opry, she now prefers the smaller stages of nursing homes and believes that her playing is a form of physical and mental therapy for its residents “who clap and just eat it up.” Some of their favorite tunes include her “Kicking Mule,” with the banjo sounding out the braying of a donkey and “Train Forty-Five,” complete with a banjo whistle.

Jessica says that she doesnít “really play banjo for myself. I feel like I play it to let the people here it. They donít hear that music anymore because itís about died out.”

INTERVIEW:   Audio ó Transcription

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