The Columbia Daily Herald Recognizes
Cathy Oakes Trip to Carnegie Hall

By James Bennett

When Cathy Oakes was 6, her mother took away her piano after catching her practicing with her toes.

The little girl from Spelter, W. Va., was bored with traditional piano lessons and wanted to see if she could play as well with her feet as with her hands. 

“As soon as she saw me, lying on the bench, with my feet on the keys, she sold it,” the Columbia resident remembered. “I didn’t get another piano of my own until I was a freshman in high school.” 

Even without a piano of her own, Oakes started playing at church and learned music from playing and listening to hymns. By the time she was a teenager, she was one of the best piano players around, playing for the high school choir in local and state competitions. 

“I loved music so much, and I majored in music in college, with an emphasis in piano and voice” said Oakes, who attended West Virginia Wesleyan College. “My dream was to one day play at Carnegie Hall.” 

The former minister’s dream will come true Saturday. Oakes will play at Carnegie Hall as part of the Enlightened Piano Radio Awards ceremony in New York. 

“I am a country girl who milked cows after school,” Oakes said. “Imagine me, playing at Carnegie Hall!” 

Oakes was nominated for best solo piano album, “To See You Again.” She will perform in Weill Hall with 23 other artists. 

“We are an online radio network with 120-plus performers,” said Oakes, who serves as artist relations director for the radio team. “Our music is original, contemporary and neoclassical. Some call it New Age.”

Oakes has performed across the country, frequently in the West, with her husband, Buddy, at her side. She has performed 60-70 concerts so far last year in places such as Sedona, Ariz., and Seattle. She often plays privately in her Columbia home for small groups. 

“The friendliest place I ever played was at a little opera house in Corning, Iowa,” Oakes said. “They were so appreciative and kind, and their opera house was wonderful. 

“The most beautiful place was in a Gig Harbor, Wash., living room” she said. “Oh, my, was it gorgeous, looking out of the picture window. There was a perfect view from this incredible home. I played as I looked out over Puget Sound.” 

Oakes moved to Columbia 10 years ago with her husband, who works as an insurance claims manager. The two met in an online Bible study after the passing of her first husband. 

“Buddy used to tell me all of the time, why don’t you write your own music,” Oakes said. “He liked listening to me play, but he kept nagging me to write music.” 

Oakes told him she did not have the ability to write and even hired a teacher at Middle Tennessee State University, Joseph Akins, to evaluate her ability. 

“I just wanted to shut my husband up, to stop the nagging,” Oakes said. “I basically was paying someone to tell me I could not do it. I was convinced I could not write. But when I finished working with him, I wrote five songs in one week. That was in 2011. Since then, I have not been able to stop writing. 

“Songs come into my head all of the time,” said Oakes, who frequently writes songs about her family and five children. “That moment has unleashed a floodgate of ideas.” 

On the Carnegie Hall stage, Oakes will play, “On the Other Side,” a song she wrote in tribute to her mother, Trellis McIntyre, who passed away at Thanksgiving last year at age 87. She originally was going to play, “The Tempest,” inspired by her daughter, Laura Hudson.

“My mother used to tell me, she would come watch me at Carnegie Hall even if she had to come in a wheelchair,” Oakes said. “She did not make it. But when I am playing the song I wrote for her, it will be very emotional and personal.” 

The five minutes on stage will be a testimony to the power of persistence, she said. 

“I’ll never forget all of the professors I’ve had through the years who told me, ‘You’ll never make it if you don’t practice.’ “ 

Oakes has made it now. She has fans from coast to coast, thanks to online radio and a path that took her from West Virginia, to Columbia and this week to New York. 

“This is a testament to the faithfulness of God and all of the people who believed in me, including my mother, my husband and friends. I think it will be one of the greatest moments of my life.” 

James Bennett is editor of The Daily Herald. Contact him at Follow him on Twitter @JamesBennettCDH. 


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