Clover to Country Star: 4-H Alumna Paige King Johnson
A Harnett County 4-H alumna is making a name for herself in the music world, and she attributes much of her success to growing up in 4-H, the nation’s largest youth development program and part of N.C. Cooperative Extension.
“I was in 4-H before I was supposed to be,” Paige King Johnson, 23, said before explaining that as a toddler, she often joined her mother Connie Johnson while she volunteered as club leader for the Harnett County Horsemasters 4-H Club. “I thought 4-H was just part of life — everybody had a 4-H meeting on Tuesday night,” Paige said.
If you haven’t heard the name Paige King Johnson, make note. This rising star is going places, starting with her debut on Country Music Television this Thursday night, Nov. 19.
Paige currently has two singles out, “Water Down the Whiskey,” released in July 2019 with the music video following in January 2020, and her latest single, “Just Like You,” released last month, with the video debuting on CMT this Thursday night. Fans await the release of her first Christmas song, a cover of Patty Loveless’ “Santa Train,” on Nov. 20.
“Music has always been a part of my life. I loved singing in church, then I started taking piano — really because my sister was doing it — and music has just always been there for me,” Paige explained.
But it was when she was 10 years old that music became something more. It was then that Paige’s grandfather bought her a guitar. That gift from her late grandfather turned out to be pivotal in Paige’s career. “He believed in me and I owed it to him to see where it went,” she explained.
“Our entire family loves and has been involved in music in some capacity at some point in our lives,” said Connie Johnson, Paige’s biggest fan.
“I realized Paige was willing to take it to the next level when she agreed to perform Lee Ann Womack’s ‘I Hope You Dance’ at her fifth-grade graduation. From that point on there was no stopping her. She would sing at local festivals, fairs, church and even local singing competitions,” Connie said.
4-H builds confidence, artistry
Paige credits 4-H for helping her to grow both in confidence and artistry. “4-H always kept me busy,” the singer said. “All of the little things I did, even the things not related to singing, helped me to become the public figure that I am today.”
According to her mother, “Paige was eager to be a 4-H’er. … From her first year as a cloverbud, Paige participated not only in shows, but in all the other 4-H activities such as workshops, summer programs, 4-H record books and eventually competitive livestock shows, horse shows, horse judging, hippology and horse bowl at the local, regional and state levels.”
“4-H gave me the confidence to get up in front of people. All of the different little skills that I learned as a teenager — many that I didn’t see value in at the time — I am so grateful for now,” Paige said. “And 4-H gave me this whole web of people, these connections, that you don’t expect when you are young and growing up in it.”
Those people are one of Paige’s favorite parts about touring; having 4-H friends everywhere means she gets to visit when her music tours play close by.
For Connie Johnson, 4-H’s impact on her daughter is easy to see. “I know 4-H had a profound positive effect on both my girls. Not only were their characters and morals emphasized through 4-H, but the programs and activities gave them the skills and the desire to become good citizens and work hard to achieve their goals,” she said.
4-H events served as another way for Paige to chase her dreams, through practice playing for crowds. Instrumental in setting up those appearances, 4-H agents have been great champions of Paige’s career.
While Harnett County has had a few individuals serve as 4-H agents over Paige’s years in the program, Jackie Helton, the county’s current 4-H agent, has been yet another strong advocate for Paige’s talent.
Helton arranged for Paige to perform in area fairs and 4-H events and, in Paige’s words, “He helped me to get outside of my head by showing that he believed in me. That’s what a 4-H leader is supposed to do.”
Taking risks, and reaping the rewards
Like many young people, Paige recalled a time when she faced a choice, to do what was safe, or to take the leap and chase her dream of making music. Focused on the reward, Paige moved to Nashville, Tennessee, to attend Belmont University and see where else her talent might take her.
“When Paige told us she absolutely wanted to go to college in Nashville at age 17, not knowing another soul that would be there, we knew there was no turning back,” Connie said.
And in Paige’s words, “For me, when thinking about college, I had the opportunity to do what people wanted me to do,” which she explained was to pursue a marketing degree at home in North Carolina. “But it was always music for me,” she said.
Nashville offered Paige the opportunity to immerse herself in the country music culture — to write music and receive feedback from new friends and local artists in many forums, including the celebrated Bluebird Cafe, a listening room of world renown where many a country music star has been discovered.
“If you fail you fail, but at least you tried. If I fail, I take it as a stepping stone — at least I had the opportunity to fail. It sounds cliché, but it’s not about falling, it is how you get back up,” Paige said.
But for this North Carolina 4-H’er, failure doesn’t seem to be an option.
A novel year
While her goals are in sight, 2020 has been a challenging year for many in the music industry as live shows were cancelled due to the pandemic. Undaunted, Paige has looked inward, finding the time to reconnect with family back home and reaching deep to write some new material.
“One of the most valuable things I have gotten out of the last nine months of forced slowdown has been finding time to reevaluate. I am writing some of my favorite music right now,” Paige said.
But as for what is to come, “Hopefully, 2021 holds a vaccine for the world. I look forward to getting back to touring, to hugging necks and thanking people for spending their time and money on my shows.”