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Laura Dodd: Inspring, entertaining and overcoming

Laura won the the ICM New Artist of the Year Award in 2010.
Laura won the the ICM New Artist of the Year Award in 2010. Photos courtesy of Laura Dodd.

By John N. Felsher

Many people stumble through life not knowing what they want to do, but Laura Dodd knew what she wanted to do at a very early age.

“I’ve always enjoyed singing,” she says. “At the age of five, my mother took me to a production of the musical “Grease.” As I was watching them sing, I was enamored by everything the performers were doing. I turned to my mother and said, ‘I’m going to do that one day!’ From then on, I’ve had a love affair with music, acting and dancing. Even before that, when they brought me home from the hospital, my mother put me in a crib in my brother’s room. My brother, who was six years older, told my mother to move me out of his room because I was humming in my sleep.”

Today, the 33-year-old crooner from Gadsden, Ala., entertains audiences all over with her blend of country, blues, bluegrass, jazz and gospel music. Now making her home in Nashville, Tenn., she spends considerable time every month on the road performing with her band, Southern Mercy, or giving inspirational speeches.

She has sung at such venues as the Kennedy Center and Carnegie Hall. She even performed at the White House. Dodd has shared the stage with the likes of George Jones, Restless Heart, Travis Tritt, Jeff Cook of the band Alabama, Rascal Flatts, Patty Loveless and Bruce Hornsby.

“I’m a gypsy by heart,” the songstress says. “I love to travel, see new places and meet new people. Just about every week, I go somewhere, either singing or speaking at an engagement. In 2004, I had the honor of singing at the White House for President George W. Bush. That was a wonderful experience. It was to help the Miracle League, children with disabilities who have their own baseball league.”

In June 2012, Laura returned to Washington D.C. to perform at the 100-year celebration of the Girl Scouts. She sang before an audience of more than 250,000 at the National Mall.

More recently, she traveled to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. When in Mexico, local bands asked if she would perform with them. As usual, she did!

“I was raised in the Church of Christ and we do a lot of a cappella singing,” Dodd says. “I love to sing a cappella and will sing anytime anyone asks. In Cabo, I sang with two Spanish-speaking bands. I don’t speak Spanish and they weren’t familiar with my kind of music. We never practiced together, but we had a lot of fun.”

Laura Dodd and her band, Southern Mercy, perform inspirational country music all over the nation.
Laura Dodd and her band, Southern Mercy, perform inspirational country music all over the nation.

The travel and hard work paid off as the honors piled up. In 2003, her rendition of “Wow” reached number 54 on the Music Row Country Music Breakout chart. Her original song, “Spread My Wings,” chartered out at number 7, garnering her the 2010 ICM New Artist of the Year title.

After debuting her hit, “I Am Pretty” during the 2011 ICM Awards Show, she received three standing ovations. In October 2012, the National Coalition for Awareness and Prevention of Domestic Violence invited Laura to Fort Worth, Texas, to perform “I Am Pretty.” The organization will use her song for domestic abuse awareness programs.

During the 2012 ICM Awards, “I Am Pretty” was nominated for Song of the Year and Dodd was nominated for Entertainer of the Year. She won the title 2012 ICM Female Vocalist of the Year.

“Inspirational country music is a genre about faith, family and country,” Dodd said. “Those things are very important to me. All my life, I have relied upon God and my family.”

Growing up in Alabama as part of a family that loved music all types of music, the country girl learned all she could about music, dance and performing. She trained in ballet and jazz. She studied musical choreography, attended workshops and took private vocal lessons to perfect her craft.

“I write music and studied music theory,” Laura says. “I play a little piano, but mostly stick to my vocal instruments. I’ve always wanted to be a professional singer. My grandfather calls me ‘Laura Belle.’ He would always say, ‘Laura Belle, you’re going to be on the Grand Ole Opry someday.’ I hope and pray that I make it that far.”

Influenced by such diverse talents as Patsy Cline, Stevie Nicks, Etta James and Bonnie Raitt, Laura advanced in her professional education. After graduating from high school, she attended Gadsden State Community College to continue her study of music and pursue a vocal degree.

“I went to Gadsden State Community College because they offered a jazz band, singers and dancers,” Dodd says. “This was my first live introduction to playing with a live band. It was wonderful.”

In August 2012, Dodd married Joseph Downs IV, a certified public accountant. Her husband travels with the singer as often as possible, but stays busy tending to the business of his clients. A relationship with one client in particular proved fortuitous.

“We met at my beautician’s shop,” Dodd says. “She was a client of Joseph and also cut his hair. We saw each other for about eight years before he finally asked me out. It’s tough to have a relationship in the music business, but my husband is very supportive of me. He knew what he was getting into when he married me.”

Unfortunately, Laura will never attain one goal – motherhood. When she was 12 years old, Dodd saw a doctor about corrective foot surgery. The doctor took a bone section from Laura’s hip and used it to correct her foot.

During the procedure on her foot, the medical team also diagnosed Laura with CIDP — Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy. Sometimes called Lewis-Sumner Syndrome, the disorder attacks the myelin sheath, or the fatty covering that insulates and protects nerve fibers. The autoimmune disease affects nerve tissue, causing numbness, pain, tingling and weakness. With her medical condition, giving birth would be much too risky for Laura.

“One leg is a little weaker than the other, so I walk with a little bit of a limp, but that just adds character,” Dodd says. “It’s been a tough road. I’ve had to rehabilitate myself at least three times. I take steroid infusions every three months to boost my immune system and pills every night. I also exercise avidly and work out about two hours a day with yoga, weight training and pilates. The exercise helps tremendously. I train like an athlete.”

The medical condition did not slow the singer down. If anything, it only encouraged her to work harder to succeed despite the difficulties. When not singing, she travels the country telling her life story as an inspiration to others.

“With anything in life, we have a choice,” Dodd says. “We have a choice to either sit down and mope or get up and cope. I want to look back over my career and say, ‘I did the right thing.’ I want to stay positive and motivated to help others. No matter what happens in life, a person can still achieve goals.”

Besides her speaking and musical careers, Dodd expanded into acting. In 2012, she acted and performed in the film, “Spirit of Love.” In addition, Dodd wrote, composed, produced and sang the title song for the film. On Feb. 16, 2013, the film premiered to a sold-out crowd at the Texas Christian Film Festival in Houston. During the premiere, she sang the national anthem a cappella while a choir of deaf children signed the song.

“I want to go to the next level, whatever level that may be,” she says. “My next goal is to do some acting. I was in The Goal, an independent film about a quadriplegic rugby player. I had a couple scenes. I also have a song in the film. People can learn and enjoy from life experiences. That’s where I get my motivation and inspiration to write.”

Dodd should debut a new album later this year or early 2014. For more information or to hear samples of her music, see www.lauradodd.com. Fans and friends can also connect with Laura on Facebook. To book shows, call Paula Dodd, her manager and mother, at 256-458-0329.