Jenee Fleenor poses with her award for the 55th annual Country Music Association awards at the Bridgestone Arena on November 10, 2021 in Nashville.
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Jenee Fleenor's Country Music Peers Praise the Award-Winning Fiddler: 'She's The G.O.A.T. These Days'


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Fiddle-playing phenom Jenee Fleenor made history in recent years as the first woman nominee and winner of the CMA Musician of the Year and ACM Specialty Instrument Player of the Year awards.

An impressive trophy haul, namely three straight CMA awards (2019-2021), let the general public in on what Fleenor's peers already knew: she is, in the words of fellow fiddler Joshua Hedley, "the G.O.A.T. these days."

The Springdale, Ark. native first learned the Suzuki method of playing violin at age 3. Her creative trajectory changed at age 5 when she fell in love with the music of Bob Wills, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard.

Fleenor moved to Nashville right out of high school in 2001 to attend Belmont University. Studies took a backseat after she landed a steady gig with Lonesome Standard Time, the backing band of bluegrass visionary and "Murder on Music Row" co-writer Larry Cordle.

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"Larry kept telling me, 'You're going to get a call from a big country star. I know it,'" Fleenor told Wide Open Country in 2019. "Sure enough by that next summer, I got the call to play for Terri Clark. Things moved very quickly, and I was thankful. I was prepared if they didn't, because I know this town can be hard."

An opportunity to tour with Martina McBride followed, further exposing Fleenor's undeniable skill and charisma to the mainstream.

"Jenee is such a bright light and so talented," McBride told Wide Open Country. "Her stage presence and energy onstage elevate any show she is a part of and I was lucky to have her as part of my road family."

Country Music Superstar Martina McBride performs for fans prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke ZERO 400 Powered by Coca-Cola at Daytona International Speedway on July 2, 2011 in Daytona Beach, Florida.

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Two pop culture staples--Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler and multimedia superstar Blake Shelton--have taken Fleenor on the road since. Grabbing and maintaining audience attention while on stage with either would be quite the feat for just any side player, even if neither boss gets stingy with the live spotlight. Through the Shelton gig in particular, Fleenor began transcending being "just any side player" thanks to an arresting stage presence and snazzy sense of style that's reminiscent of fellow multi-instrumentalist and show-stealer Doug Kershaw.

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"Who wouldn't go to a Blake Shelton concert and be absolutely upset if they didn't see Jenee on the fiddle behind him?," said Tori Allen, a fellow Nashville-based fiddler, singer and songwriter.

"She's a character," added Becky Buller, an award-winning bluegrass fiddler and band leader. "You know it's her because she's kind of larger than life. I think we need more of that in the music business as a whole but also in country music and bluegrass."

Steven Tyler (4th L) poses for a photo with members of Loving Mary at "Steven Tyler...Out on a Limb" Show to Benefit Janie's Fund in Collaboration with Youth Villages - Red Carpet at David Geffen Hall on May 2, 2016 in New York City.

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Shelton positioned Fleenor to join the house band for NBC's The Voice. He also insured that the off-camera announcement of Fleenor's history-making CMA victory in 2019 would get some on-screen love.

"Maybe a week beforehand, I got a message that said Blake wants this to be a fiddle solo (in 'God's Country') because he's so proud of my nomination," Fleenor told Wide Open Country in 2019. "He didn't have to do that. I love Blake so much. He's always helping other people. I sent him a message saying, 'Blake, thank you so much.' I get emotional thinking about it.

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"The fact that I won it, we had a moment backstage," Fleenor added. "He and Gwen walked up, and they were just so excited. It's everything I ever dreamed of, and the fact that I got to step out and take a solo that wasn't on that record was a huge moment for me."

Shelton shifting Fleenor to the forefront on national television provided representation for Allen and other women making a living off traditional country instrumentation.

Blake Shelton and Jenee Fleenor perform onstage during the 53rd annual CMA Awards at the Bridgestone Arena on November 13, 2019 in Nashville.

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"I remember watching that and feeling her energy and I was like, 'She's freaking out. This is so awesome. Let's go Jenee!,'" Allen said. "Then to go [win Musician of the Year] again and again is awesome."

The path from Cordle and Clark to Tyler and Shelton only retraces Fleenor's steps as an onstage talent. As a sought-after session musician and harmony vocalist, she's been featured on recordings by established names (Don Williams, Trace Adkins, Reba McEntire, Trisha Yearwood) and like-minded peers (Cody Johnson, Jon Pardi, Carly Pearce).

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"Working with Jenee on [29: Written in Stone] was a no brainer," Pearce said. "Her sound re-created what I loved listening to as a kid but made it new and fresh. After we heard her on one song, it completely changed the way we approached the whole album."

Fleenor brings the same professionalism and precision to sessions as the late keyboardist Hargus "Pig" Robbins and other Music City legends known for working both smart and hard to make stars sound like a million bucks in a minimal number of takes.

"[Fleenor] and Scotty Sanders on steel came in at the same time and cut their parts at the same time," added Hedley, who worked with Fleenor on his forthcoming album Neon Blue. "I think it took them longer to set up than it did to play the songs. They're real consummate pros. They're the real deal."

Blake Shelton and Jenee Fleenor speak at the press room of the 53rd annual CMA Awards at the Bridgestone Arena on November 13, 2019 in Nashville.

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When Fleenor's not adding a touch of tradition to mainstream country music (as heard on Pardi's "Heartache Medication" and Pearce's "Diamondback"), she does the same for modern bluegrass alongside Grand Ole Opry members Dailey & Vincent and other musical offspring of Cordle.

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"Jenee Fleenor isn't just a fiddle player or singer," explained Jamie Dailey. "Jenee is an artist in the truest since of the word. She is a master in everything you have to have to be one of the greats. We feel honored when she steps on stage to sing or play music with us."

Marty Raybon of Shenandoah, who jammed with Fleenor in February during Cowboy Day at John Hagee's Cornerstone Church, mirrors Dailey's high praise.

"She's such a good fiddler. She can do country or bluegrass, either one, or swing," Raybon said. "She's a player, and on top of that, she's a good gal, too. I think the world of Jenee."

Beyond her touring and session musician experiences, Fleenor's the recording artist behind singles "Fiddle & Steel" and "Good Ol' Girls" and a songwriter who's first cut, "I Am Strong," was released in 2011 by The Grascals and Dolly Parton. Another Fleenor original, Cordle co-write "Big Blue Raindrops," appears on the Del McCoury Band's Grammy award-winning album The Streets of Baltimore.

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Fellow singer-songwriter and Arkansas native Erin Enderlin best sums up what it must feel like to collaborate on stage or in studio with a white-hot fiddler who's becoming a legend in her time.

"There's those players that you play with that every time you get to play with them you're like, 'Man, I love this and I'm going to soak this up because they're going to be too big for me one day'," Enderlin said.

Fleenor is among the artists celebrated by the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum's 2022 edition of its American Currents: State of the Music exhibit, which runs through Feb. 5, 2023.

enee Fleenor attends the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum opening of American Currents: State of the Music at Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum on March 01, 2022 in Nashville.

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READ MORE: Louise Scruggs: a 'Club of One' as a Pop Culture Pioneer and Bluegrass Visionary

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