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ERNEST on new album and overcoming a heart attack at 19 to follow his country music dreams

Celebrated for his impromptu lyrics and catchy melodies, country music singer-songwriter Ernest Smith said he first realized his knack for songwriting in sixth grade when he listened to the “Space Jam” soundtrack.

“I was ingesting rap at like, you know, second, third grade,” said ERNEST.

His love for music blossomed in elementary school, where he honed his skills by freestyling at the lunch table and making up songs about friends.

“They throw out words, I’d make up rhymes. And that was, that was kind of like when I realized I had a skill for it,” said ERNEST.

That skill has earned him nine No. 1 hits and led to ERNEST writing with and for some of country music’s biggest names, like Kane Brown and ERNEST’s good friend, Jelly Roll.

His songwriting took him to Nashville, where he signed a record deal and recently released an album named after his hometown, “Nashville, Tennessee.”

“I call it ‘Nashville, Tennessee’ because the DNA of music city to me is, is based on and around songwriters and that’s what I want to display throughout this whole album. I want to put songwriters on the map,” said ERNEST.

But ERNEST’s destination wasn’t always clear. 

He was adopted as a baby. His dad was a baseball coach, so ERNEST grew up on the field, eventually earning a scholarship to play in college. But life had other plans. At 19, he experienced an unexpected heart attack due to a viral infection. 

“When they told me I was having a heart attack, I was like, wow, you know? I was in great shape,” he recalled.

That pushed him to leave college baseball and fully commit to his music career, a choice that has clearly paid off. 

Now firmly established in his music career, ERNEST is selling out shows and recently performed two nights at the historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville — a venue that holds special significance for him. 

“This is the one venue you can’t outgrow,” he said.

In a touching tribute to his bond with the venue, ERNEST named his son Ryman, hoping to pass on the connection to future generations. 

“I hope he always feels a connection to this place like I did. And like, when I’m gone, he can come here and feel me.”

ERNEST says now is the time to share his perspective through his music.

“This is the first record that I’ve been able to be selfish and like not give songs away,” he said. “I’m proud to say I was selfish with these because, uh, before I, I don’t regret any song I’ve given away, but I think if I were to give some of these away on this album, I might have regretted it.”

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