Chapel Hart, the country trio of sisters Danica and Devynn Hart and their cousin Trea Swindle, was recently getting ready for a show when Devynn came to a realization. “‘We have really grown up a lot over this last couple years,’” Danica recalls her saying.
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Born and raised in the rural town of Poplarville, Mississippi, Danica, Devynn Hart and Swindle are three among a whopping 108 grandchildren. They grew up singing in church and in a children’s choir comprised of their fellow cousins at family gatherings where music was a mainstay, Danica recalling how they’d frequently perform “Sing Hallelujah” a cappella complete with claps and foot stomps.
“It’s been a part of life,” Swindle tells American Songwriter about music. They transported this gift of three-part harmony to New Orleans in 2015 when Danica and Swindle moved there and started busking on the streets, performing in a cover band on the famous Bourbon Street. The pair later convinced Devynn to relocate and pursue music with them in 2018.
“After I lost my job, I was like, ‘If I’m ever going to be a real singer, a real artist, this is it,’” Devynn recalls.
Once Devynn arrived, the duo became a trio and decided to follow their passion for singing country music. “If we’re really going to do this, we’re going to have to take the leap and sing the songs that are really true to our heart,” Swindle recalls of their mindset when Devynn arrived. Following their hearts is a method they applied to their journey on America’s Got Talent. But they may have never ended up on the show had it not been for one of their devoted fans. One day, the trio received an email from a fan and AGT scouting agent, Lindsay Rush, encouraging them to audition for the NBC show.
“I love your music, I love the message, and the world really needs to hear it,” Swindle recites. At the time, the trio was trying to make their way in Nashville and touring around the country in an effort to slowly build their fanbase. Their lives changed in 2022 when Chapel Hart was scheduled to open for the Indigo Girls. But the week of their tour dates, a member of the Indigo Girls’ team got COVID-19 and had to cancel that particular run of shows.
Coincidentally, the canceled tour dates happened to fall in the same week as the auditions for AGT. Despite Chapel Hart’s initial resistance, Rush’s persistence in urging them to try out for the show, coupled with their open schedule, compelled them to take the chance.
“We wanted to at the end of the day, say that we did it all and we tried every avenue possible,” Swindle says of their decision to audition. The trio won over the hearts of America, along with judges Simon Cowell, Sofia Vergara, Heidi Klum and Howie Mandel, with their performance of their original song, “You Can Have Him Jolene,” a response to Dolly Parton’s legendary hit, “Jolene.” But they almost auditioned with another Parton hit, “9 to 5,” with “You Can Have Him Jolene” as their backup song.
Fate intervened during their last run-through with the music department before they hit the nationally televised stage. One of the producers requested that they rehearse “You Can Have Him Jolene” one more time. It was at that moment that the trio came to a crossroads.
“There was a silence afterward,” Danica remembers of when they finished rehearsing. “I think every single one of us knew we had to take the chance on ourselves. If we go out and give ‘You Can Have Him Jolene’ to the world, and they hate it, at least we took a chance on ourselves. It was such a beautiful and empowering moment for us.”
When the trio took the stage and shared they were going to do an original song, Cowell delivered a self-fulfilling prophecy: “Three minutes can literally change your life on this show,” he said. His words became reality, as by the end of their audition the judges were on their feet. Wiping tears from her eyes, Danica admitted that it’d been “hard” trying to get a record deal in Nashville as “country music doesn’t always look like us.”
The song, coupled with their endearing story, earned them a coveted Golden Buzzer that automatically landed them a spot in the live rounds. The trio made it all the way to the finale where they performed with Darius Rucker and were named a grand finalist.
“To be able to showcase a completely original song to a roomful of 4,000 people who really don’t know you from Adam, and to have them up on their feet clapping and by the second chorus singing along, the amount of validation that we received from the audience … Simon Cowell heard our music and commended us not only on the performance but [us] as songwriters,” Swindle explains. “It really meant the world to us. It’s given us the confidence to continue to empower other people who want to go out and follow their dreams.”
Chapel Hart channeled that songwriting confidence into their new album, Glory Days, where they co-wrote all 11 tracks. Danica recalls that she wrote her first song when she was seven-years-old, but didn’t pick up the craft again until she moved to New Orleans. “Made For Me” was the first song they wrote as a trio, which ended up on their independently released 2019 album, Out the Mud. The song focuses on their upbringing in Poplarville and their desire to escape their small town to pursue their wild ambitions singing, I gotta go out / So I can chase the world / There ain’t no holdin′ down a country girl / I gotta go and run along / So I can leave / I gotta go run and chase / This life that was made for me.
They realized the impact their music was having when they did a show in Austria and a fan came up to them and said she now wanted to visit their hometown because of that song. “The wisdom that we’ve gained this last year, we realized that it’s about the people who are sitting in front of us, it’s about the people buying the tickets, who are coming crying in the meet and greet lines,” Danica states. “That’s what this album is about.”
“I think the really interesting thing about Glory Days is that we are literally living in the midst of our glory days,” Devynn observes. “As we were figuring out what we wanted to say on this album, once all the songs were picked, we realized that it’s a true representation of our glory days. … I think it’s being more open and transparent with our fans.”
One particular song that fulfills this mission is “Love in Letting Go.” The song was inspired by a visit Danica paid to her grandmother in 2019 after her brother passed away. In an effort to comfort her, Danica wrote “Love in Letting Go” and brought it back to her as a gift.
“I always thought it’d be the song that she could go back and play over and over again,” Danica shares. “I didn’t realize it was going to be a song that the world could go back to and listen to.”
The power of their words was reflected back to them when their assistant was in the room while “Love” was playing. By the song’s end, tears were flowing down her face. Her reaction captures the impact that Chapel Hart hopes the album has.
“This album is a connector,” Danica proclaims. “People are going to be able to connect their stories and their childhood and their youth. I know we’re excited to share those moments.”
“We hope that this album serves the rest of the world as a way to stop and remember to take it all in, be thankful for those good times, but also be appreciative of the lows as well,” Swindle adds. “When you go through those valleys in life, it makes the mountain seem a whole lot higher.
“Take the time to appreciate where you came from and where you are in your journey, as well as where you’re going, and remember that these are the glory days. They might not look like exactly what you expect them to, they are exactly what they’re supposed to be.”
Glory Days is available now.
Photo by Bailey Lamar/Courtesy of Monarch Publicity