“The guitar he gifted me has been my motivation during the struggles with my health.”-Ethan Payne
Ethan Payne is a 17-year old Georgia-born and raised singer/songwriter whose belief in “living life to the fullest” is best exemplified by his honest storytelling-style of country music. Growing up in Macon, GA, Payne began playing guitar at the age of 8 after receiving the instrument as a Christmas gift from his maternal grandmother. A self-described “old soul”, the singer was diagnosed at the age of 18 months with Cystic Fibrosis, a genetic disease that primarily affects the lungs. Through sheer determination and a disciplined work ethic, and with the support of family, friends and musical mentors, he has chosen to push through, following his passion and encouraging others to do the same regardless of any perceived boundaries or obstacles.
Your maternal grandmother gave you your first guitar as a Christmas gift nine years ago. Growing up in Macon, GA, what music did you and your grandmother listen to?
My grandmother and I listened to the traditional country like George Jones, Conway Twitty, George Strait and Garth Brooks when I was growing up. I also listened to Georgia natives Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean, and The Allman Brothers.
My younger daughter was around a year-and-a-half when she was diagnosed with severe asthma. However, she has always maintained a positive attitude and a strong will to never quit. You were diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis at 18-months-old. How has your diagnosis strengthened you, even as it can present challenges on a daily basis?
I feel like having Cystic Fibrosis has made me realize not to take any day for granted and live life to the fullest. The fact that it primarily affects my lungs and breathing makes me more determined when it comes to my singing. I know my singing has improved my lung function over the past few years.
What made you choose a meet and greet with Luke Bryan as your only ‘make-a-wish’ with the Make-A-Wish Foundation?
I’ve always loved music and decided at an early age that music was what I wanted to pursue even with the challenges that I face with my health. I idolized him early on and knew that I wanted to be like Luke by being a successful artist and just an all-around great guy. So, I knew as soon as Make-A-Wish asked, that I had only one wish and that was to meet Luke. Never did I know that it would be a life-long wish.
What was it like to join Bryan on stage at that Dallas concert in 2016 in front of 50K fans and sing “Do I” together?
Being on stage with Luke Bryan in Dallas, Texas at Dallas Cowboys Stadium in front of 50,000 fans was surreal. It was like the whole world had shut down and all eyes were on me. Another moment of realization for me and what I was meant to do for the rest of my life.
You are now an ambassador for the Foundation. What do you tell newly diagnosed patients who are struggling adjusting to life the disease, especially during the Coronavirus pandemic?
As an ambassador for The Make A Wish Foundation, I meet a lot of other wish kids. Many of them newly diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. I stress to them how important it is to stay strong and not give up. Our illness does not have to define us. It’s a constant battle we fight and we have to keep our heads held high and push through. There will be bad days and there will also be goods days. Take advantage of everyday and don’t let anything get them down.
You wrote your first song, “Back In Time”, at the age of 14. What inspired the write?
“Back In Time” was actually the first song I solely wrote and completed. I was 14 years old when I wrote and produced this song. It was released in 2016 on all musical platforms. This song was written after the loss of my uncle who died from colon cancer at the age of 46. I was thinking about how much loss we experience with friends and family. I decided to write the song from the perspective of a man who has lost the woman he loves in the line of duty.
Last year you auditioned for “American Idol”, playing the guitar Luke gave you in Dallas. For your audition, you asked him to join you in an impromptu duet of “Do I”. How has Luke continued to influence your music career?
Luke continues to be a great influence to me by being the most humble and genuine person. I look to him as a mentor and someone that inspires me to do the right thing all the time. In Dallas that night he gave me lots of advice and told me to keep doing what I’m doing and to keep pushing. He gives to so many like myself and I hope that I am able to do the same one day.
The best advice I have received from the artists I’ve opened for was to keep up the hard work, keep my head held high, and don’t give up. To make it in Nashville you need ambition and diligence, which are two words I live by when it comes to my health and my music.
For the past three years you have been nominated for Georgia Country Teen Artist of the Year at the Georgia Country Music Awards. Which fellow up-and-coming Georgia artists do you recommend we add to our playlists?
Some of my fellow up and coming artists that I have on my playlist would be Trey Teem, who I co-wrote a song with on my upcoming album. We are actually both from the same county and perform together at Wild Wing Cafe locally in Macon from time to time. He even performed with me at a Make A Wish event in Nashville earlier this year. Another Georgia artist to look out for is Clay Page who is from Elberton, GA. We met on American Idol at our judge audition in Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho where we both received our tickets to Hollywood.
In January you released “The Moon Over Georgia”. What connected you to the song?
When I was growing up my parents listened to country music. Shenandoah was one of the bands they would often listen to. “The Moon Over Georgia” was always my favorite one of their songs. My manager re-introduced that song to me and being that I am a Georgia native, I felt what better way to introduce myself to the country music scene. It is an iconic song that has stood the test of time. I wanted to put a modern spin on the song and share it with my generation.
Your new single, “Luke’s Guitar”, was written about the night the two of you first met. Which songs by Luke are your favorites to cover?
Honestly, I have to say I like all of Luke’s songs. If I have to pick a few favorites I would have to say of course “Do I” would be at the top of the list. Then following would be “Play It Again”, “Dirt Road Diary”, and “Huntin’, Fishin’, and Lovin’ Everyday”.
Any hints as to what we can expect to hear on your upcoming album?
The songs on my upcoming album will be a sort of mixture. I tend to put a lot of emotion into songs that I write. I want the listener to feel like they are right there with me experiencing every word. So, saying that there are some tear jerkers. There are also some upbeat, backroad driving songs. There is one surprise on the album that I feel all my followers will enjoy. It happens to be one of my most requested songs when I play live. It’s a fresh face on one of my all-time favorite songs and I can’t wait to share it with ya’ll.
Reflecting on the past few weeks, how do you think live music will be impacted post the Coronavirus pandemic?
I feel like live music is going to recover fairly well. I’m looking forward to getting back out there and playing as I’m sure all the other artists are as well. I believe our fans are as anxious as we are. Will it be a slow process probably. Once the uncertainty wears off we will be right back to where we were before. Country music is like a close family and we have tons of support from our fans.
Can you share something positive that has happened in your life during the quarantine?
The quarantine has given me plenty of time to reflect on myself, my goals, and my music. I’ve spent a lot of time with my fans on social media and I’ve also got to spend more time with my family.
Together we are facing such an unknown future. What songs would you add to a playlist to help comfort fans?
I have three songs on my playlist that I listen to when I’m feeling down and worried. Believe it or not they are not country songs. They are “Say You Won’t Let Go” by James Arthur, “Someone You Loved” by Lewis Capaldi, and “Free Fallin” the John Mayer version.