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Matt Whitley knew early on that his daughter Caroline had an ear for music, humming along to songs before she could even talk.
“I remember her being very small and singing along to songs on the radio in my truck and making up words because she didn’t know what half of them were and what they meant, and it used to melt my heart,” Whitley said. “She just knew she liked the melody and the beat and had to sing along with it.”
Whitley, who is the lead singer for the Wilson area group Street Revival, grew up singing in church and figured Caroline might some day join him. He didn’t have to wait long. At 4 years old, Caroline began singing for the congregation.
“It took some convincing and some bribing,” Whitley said, laughing, “but we finally got her up there to do a few songs, and it became second nature for her. We still sing together in our church, and that is also an incredible experience for us.”
Caroline, now 14, knew from an early age that she wanted to sing with her father.
“I have wanted to sing next to him since I was little,” Caroline said. “He would play his guitar and sing, and I would always want to be right there beside him. He would be playing a show, and I would be in the front of the crowd dancing.”
Caroline is still in front of the crowd, but now she’s behind a microphone.
After playing a few open mic nights together when Caroline was 12, her father invited some friends he had previously played music with, to join them. Michael “Sarge” Sargent, Michael Pearson and Jay Wheeler began practicing with the father-daughter duo and were soon booking gigs.
“The musical chemistry was instant from our first practice,” Caroline said. “Dad had been playing music with these guys for a lot of years, so it just kind of picked up where they had left off. We decided to try to get a couple bookings and played our first show at 217 Brew Works. The first few times we played we didn’t even have a name.”
Caroline said she was eager to sing to crowds but was definitely nervous the first few times. She knows she has come a long way in just two years.
“I love looking back at videos from the first show and then the last show and seeing how comfortable and confident I am now compared to then,” Caroline said.
“Seeing her develop her talent and trade in these early years is something that I will never forget,” Whitley said.
“Having Caroline there beside me each night that we sing is a very humbling and incredible experience for a father. I’m overwhelmingly proud of not only the performer that she has become, but the stand-up Christian young lady that has one of the biggest hearts of anyone I’ve ever met.”
Whitley has three daughters and says they all are different and have their own personalities.
“One thing that is the same for all of them is that I want to spend as much time as I can doing things with them, loving them and teaching them things along the way,” he said.
“Music has been a part of our family for generations,” Whitley said. “I look at my parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and others in our family who have music in their souls and can both sing and play numerous instruments. I am thankful for these folks who have passed it along to us and for the incredible musicians, both here and Nashville, that I’ve been able to be around and learn from for a lot of years.”
Caroline considers the members of Street Revival her musical family and wants to sing with them as long as she can before, hopefully, pursuing a solo career. But there is one member of that musical family who is just a little more special than the others.
“No words really describe how much fun I have standing next to my dad, and we are definitely closer because of it,” Caroline said. “I love when I look over and see him smiling at me on stage. Or when he tells me, ‘You got it,’ when he can tell I don’t want to go for a note. I look up to him, and all I want is to make him proud.”