It was Dani-elle Kleha’s dream to be a country singer since she was a little girl.
Her parents exposed her to country music and as a precocious three-year-old, she began singing in her church. Her first live performance was “Angels Among Us” by Alabama, and by the time she was 9, she was offered a role in a Broadway production, an opportunity she and her family passed on to pursue her passion for country singing and songwriting.
At 19, eight years after her first vocal lesson in Nashville with renowned coach Renee Grant Williams, Kleha performed in Music City several times. The Jermyn native has garnered attention in both Northeastern Pennsylvania and the nation’s musical mecca. She is fresh off receiving her first major honor for Country Modern Female Rising Star at the Josie Awards on Sept. 27.
The award ceremony, hosted by 20-year-old podcast radio host and recording artist Josie Passatino, brought industry professionals together to present awards in a variety of genres, which both they and fans voted on.
Kleha was nominated for four awards, and she and her band, Music City, were scheduled to play a song between presentations. The first presentation came and went without an award. Then Dani-elle and the band performed, and afterward three more presentations left them empty handed.
“We were like, well, that’s fine,” Kleha said. “You win some you lose some. We were just so honored to be nominated and to get to perform at such a prestigious event.”
Then the unexpected happened. Near the evening’s end, two additional awards were announced in the category of artist on the rise, and Kleha heard her name called.
“This award I received was actually created and voted on by industry professionals,” Kleha said. “To say I was shocked would be an understatement.”
Kleha said it was an incredible honor to get an award she didn’t know existed much less that she was nominated. She is embracing the honor, calling it a cool thing to share with her family and bandmates, but she doesn’t even mention herself when she explains how she got to this point.
Her parents, who she calls her biggest fans are among the first to get credit. “They support my dreams, support everything,” Kleha said.
Immediately after her folks, she mentions her band, which is comprised of musicians from Northeastern Pennsylvania, and her fans.
“My band is awesome … and my fans, I have fantastic fans whether it be a competition that I’m doing that they vote in or just telling me my music is brightening their day, showing up to shows, they truly are fantastic,” she said.
The band features Josh Karis on drums, Dirk Dekker and Jonathan Sembrat on guitars, Brian Gildea on bass and Vince Saracino on keyboards. Kleha has worked with many musicians in the years since she began performing live, but she has an affinity for this ensemble.
“These guys that I have right now, they’re absolutely incredible,” Kleha said. “They’re a bunch of talented musicians; they are great guys; they’re like a second family. They’re all kind of big brothers to me, I feel like, and if I had a choice it would for sure be for this to stick.”
Perhaps the biggest brother is drummer and music director Josh Karis, a seasoned musician who has been part of successful projects like the acclaimed rock band Leroy Justice.
Karis, who has seen success in some formulaic ways in the past, said it is beneficial for him to work with a younger musician who is not tied into certain dogmas of direction.
“Once you get into your fourth, fifth, 10th band, you’re like, ‘OK, we do X, Y and Z and let’s try it again,’” Karis said. “Whereas she hasn’t succeeded or failed yet, so she’s just trying things out, and that’s actually been a bit of a learning experience for me.”
He also talked a bit about how Kleha has gotten to this point.
“She’s a young kid, but I think she’s ahead of the curve. She has a nice, well developed voice,” he said.
Kleha and Music City have played at the CMA Festival as well as pre-opened for big country acts at Montage Mountain and will be scheduling shows in the future, playing songs from her debut album “Eleven,” which was co-written by Grammy nominated songwriter Amanda Williams.
Kleha is competing for a record contract in Nash Next and has already made it through several rounds of elimination. Fans can vote for her every week at www.nashnextcountry.com.
Although Nashville has become a big part of what Dani-elle is trying to accomplish, she keeps in mind her most important fans are in NEPA.
“The hometown and local support means more than anybody can ever know,” Kleha said. “We always have open arms waiting for us when we get home.”
Reach Matt Mattei at 570-991-6651