Eleanor Underhill – banjo, harmonica, lead vocals, harmonies

Photo by Sandlin Gaither

Eleanor Underhill grew up surrounded by music. Born in 1981, the same year as MTV’s launch, she was no stranger to the pop icons of the ‘80s and ‘90s. In her formative years, she was often caught re-watching Singing in the Rain, The Sound of Music, and Dirty Dancing—movies that feature strong musical numbers and thus instilled her with a love of word-play, melody, and rhythm. The record player often spun the harmony-laden songs of Simon & Garfunkel, The Beatles, and Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young; Car rides featured Joni Mitchell, Bonnie Raitt, and Barbara Streisand on full blast with her mother singing harmony. Overhearing her mother practicing a repertoire of ballads to perform in the taverns of Colonial Williamsburg also had an impact on Eleanor’s musical interests.

Eleanor played a variety of instruments including piano, trombone, guitar and banjo ukulele, but her discovery of the banjo has defined her sound and image. At 14, she composed her first song and has since written a large catalogue of music that has supported the creation of four albums: Gathering by the Barrel House Mamas, along with Underhill Rose’s self-titled debut, Something Real, an Americana Music Association Top 20 release, and The Great Tomorrow, which was named the #1 Progressive Bluegrass Album by the Roots Music Review. Her unique musical style and prolific writing ability has generated significant attention outside of her bands, as she has won top honors at Asheville’s Songwriting Idol Contest and played on the Grammy Award Winning Song “Mind Over Matter” by Kid-Hop artist, Agent 23 Skidoo. She was also recently named a Deering Banjos endorsing artist.

Eleanor is a graduate of Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa, NC, where she further developed her taste for folk and mountain music. It was there that she learned the intricacies of the claw-hammer banjo style and met her musical partner, Molly Rose. This led to the formation of the regional standout group the Barrel House Mamas. Following a successful run that included an audition for Fox television and a three-year stretch touring the Southeast, the band parted ways. Ultimately, Eleanor and Molly decided to take to the stage as a duo, launching Underhill Rose in 2009. Since its formation, Eleanor has been a major component of the band: cementing its status as a staple in the southern music scene through her unique sound, which is a mesh of folk, jazz, blues, and pop influences. Along with Molly and upright bass player Salley Williamson, she has performed at Bristol Rhythm and Roots, Merlefest, LEAF, Floydfest, Red Ants Pants Festival, and the Warren Hayne’s Christmas Jam.

In May 2011, Underhill Rose released its self-titled, debut album, which was named one of the 2011 top 20 WNCW regional releases. Something Real was released May 2013, landing in the top 25 on six different domestic and international airplay charts. In addition to being played on radio stations around the world, the album peaked at #18 on the Americana Music Association Airplay Chart and remained in the Top 40 for 10 straight weeks. The band’s third independent album, The Great Tomorrow, peaked at #28 on the AMA Chart and hovered at #1 on the Roots Music Review’s Progressive Bluegrass Album Chart for several months.

In addition to her musical accomplishments, Underhill is a thrice-published illustrator and a certified science teacher with a love for gardening and cooking. While not on the road, she teaches kids basic engineering principles at local schools and plays solo or with her side-project, Eleanor Underhill & Friends, around the Asheville area.