By Loretta Gillespie
The Cullman Times
Kassie Miller and her husband, Ben Wilson, have had a very interesting year. Not only did they visit Africa and perform for audiences all over the southeast, they also won the coveted title of Southwest Regional Winners in the Texaco Country Showdown.
Annually, over 450 radio stations across the country sponsor local contests. Winners advance to their state events where prizes include $1,000 and the opportunity to compete in one of five Regional events. The five regional winners receive an all-expense-paid trip to the national final in Nashville to compete for $100,000 and the coveted title, “Best New Act in Country Music.”
Kassie and Ben have won several competitions, but this one holds the most promise for the couple.
Before advancing to the Alabama state level, Kassie and Ben won their local competition representing WKUL in Cullman.
The couple was given the highest accolades in Texaco Country Showdown News: “Their live performance must be experienced to understand the passion, tension, and atmosphere it produces. Together, Kassie and husband, Ben Wilson, produce an impactful live show that leaves listeners wanting the next word, note, and melody. Kassie's compositions concern subjects close to the heart and are a far cry from the 'formula' songs heard on radio today.”
Kassie’s grandparents, Billy and Charlotte Wood of Cullman are on cloud nine about Kassie’s success.
Each year, more than 50,000 artists compete throughout the United States. As regional winners, Kassie and Ben are in some pretty impressive company. Names like Martina McBride, Garth Brooks, Miranda Lambert, Neal McCoy, Sara Evans, Brad Paisley and Billy Ray Cyrus were local, state, and regional winners of the Texaco Country Showdown.
But that’s not their whole story. In April of this year, Kassie quit her job to sing full time. “I was also looking for something in my life that I hadn’t found yet,” said Kassie softly. “Ben had heard about ‘Visiting Orphans’ from Amanda (who works there) and he brought it up to me.”
Kassie was interested in the project. Almost miraculously, things fell into place and she was able to go to Rwanda with a team last May. “The trip opened my eyes to a previously unseen world,” said Kassie earnestly. “I’ve always loved kids, but I never knew that this trip and these orphans would touch me so fiercely.”
One child in particular stole Kassie’s heart. Her name is Kevine. She is 10 years old and lives at Noel Orphanage in Gisenyi, Rwanda. “Kevine is beautiful, quiet and shy, and can be sassy when she doesn’t get her way,” laughed Kassie. “She is not one to go out of her way to beg for your attention, but when she does get your friendship, she will be loyal to you. I wanted to go back every day just to see her. There was an unexplainable connection between us.”
Kassie stayed in Rwanda for two weeks — that trip changed her way of thinking about a lot of things. “It opened my eyes,” she said. “Everything on this trip was amazing. I just wish that Ben could have been there.”
“When Kassie came back, she was in love with Rwanda, its culture, and the orphans over there, especially Kevine,” Ben recalled. “She was so in love that she wanted to go back right away. We looked into the next Rwanda trip which was in November 2012.” They both signed up and November found them in Rwanda.
“We shared experiences that could not possibly have been articulated with words,” said Ben. While at Noel Orphanage, Kassie got to see Kevine again. The little girl and Kassie were together all the time after that.”
“It just so happened that Kevine’s sister, Muhoza, was also there this time and we met her for the first time. Now, this is who I fell in love with,” laughed Ben. “Muhoza is outgoing and loves to dance, waving her hands and pretending to conduct her imaginary orchestra. She stole my heart, and Kevine stole Kassie’s heart, and I think it providential that we fell in love with sisters.”
A few people told Ben that once he went on this trip, his life would be “wrecked”. “I really just thought that they were being emotional and cliché by saying that, but now I know that, for me, it was unmistakably true,” Ben confessed. “I must say, that since I’ve come back from this trip, my thoughts and my life has not been the same. I was so sad to come back to America. On the flight back home, I’d look out the plane window and see the suburbs in Washington D.C. and just think ‘Why am I back here?’ It seemed so lavish and selfish to be in America again. I wanted to be in Rwanda so much. I missed the people, and I missed Muhoza so much.”
Several days later, Ben woke up at home at 3 a.m. and walked around the house just feeling sad and wishing he was back at Noel Orphanage, giving those orphans a taste of what God intended them to have — a family.
“I just can’t believe that some of those kids are orphaned, that they have no family support system. They deserve more,” said Ben passionately.
Since the trip, Ben says that he has noticed things about his life and about general human attitudes that repulse him. “I’ve noticed how so many people’s lives and actions (including my own) are driven by the desire for success and money,” he said. “When did a green piece of paper become so important in the grand scheme of things?” he asked himself. “And why do we feel we have to live for our own selfish successes? There is something so beautiful and right about living for something beyond ourselves. This is what I want to do. This is how I want to approach our musical career. I want my talents and successes to cause a greater good…to cause people to be aware of orphans in need, to cause people to live out a true Christian life involving pure acts of religion (James 1:27), to cause people to see their need for redemption by our Creator,” said Ben with conviction.
To learn more about Kassie and Ben, visit www.KassieMusic.com to listen to the music, read the blog, and check out pictures of their trip to Rwanda
Visit www.texacocountryshowdown.com for more information
For music and more information visit on Kassie and Ben visit www.kassiemusic.com.