Wild Blue Yonder was born in the year 2000 when veteran performers/songwriters Melissa Wade and Philip Coward joined forces to share their love of acoustic music with new audiences. In 2003, fiddler Cindy Wallace came on board, and the group flourished in East Tennessee and Western North Carolina, producing two CDs and performing more than 50 shows a year for several years.
Phil, Melissa and Cindy each come from families who played and sang songs passed down from their Scots-Irish ancestors. With fellow band members Karen and Michael Leffel, from East Tennessee and Kentucky, Wild Blue Yonder holds a deep respect for the traditions of Appalachia. That respect and a love of history inspire the group to share the music that traveled from Celtic regions afar to the Smoky Mountains.
Melissa's love of music began at the piano, her first instrument, at age 8. It was there that she learned the structure from which creativity can blossom. A small Methodist church in Mascot, Tennessee, was her first piano "gig" as a young teen, and in that setting she formed a life-long love of sacred music. Guitar was the next instrument to catch her ear, largely owing to the music of Emmylou Harris and Nanci Griffith, major influences on her performance style. Continuing to evolve musically is what keeps her artistically fresh, and that evolution has led to her recent fascination with Celtic song and Gaelic language.
Philip, who plays guitar, mandolin and banjo, comes from a long and diverse musical background. He began playing guitar at age 12, bass a few years later, and was a veteran of numerous working bands in Knoxville by age 22. While he led several top 40 bands in the 1970s and '80s - one of which toured overseas with the USO - acoustic music was what he enjoyed offstage. Today he is immersed not only in the music of the British Isles, but also its tradition and culture. And if you’re curious about anything Scots-Irish - from the Ulster emigration to the battle of King’s Mountain - he’s the man to ask!
Cindy’s fiery fiddle playing shines on stage with dynamic presence and pizazz. Her soulful style adds an authentic Celtic air to the group's sound. But how could she miss, with a name like Wallace? Her musical roots were planted in Greenville, North Carolina, where she began performing in a family band as a young teen. Wallace’s father, Will, was her first major musical influence and whom she credits with inspiring her in many ways. “Pa,” as she called him, made sure his three daughters were not only trained in classical violin, but also equipped with the skill to entertain a crowd. Cindy also plays guitar and piano. Dollywood and Music Mansion are two Sevier County venues where she performed for many years.
Husband and wife Michael and Karen Leffel, who currently live in Upper East Tennessee, are the newest members of Wild Blue Yonder. With flute, whistles and percussion, they have taken the group’s Celtic sound to a whole new level. Karen is an alumnus of the University of Tennessee Pride of the Southland marching band and has played flute and piccolo from an early age in various community groups. She enjoys experimenting with new whistles in Wild Blue Yonder’s expanding repertoire and brings a “Highland sparkle” to each arrangement.
Michael, a native of Louisville, Kentucky, is an engineer by profession, now retired and delving into an array of Celtic percussion instruments that spice up the WBY recipe. He has played saxophone and guitar since his youth and performed in numerous combos and community bands. The bodhran, in particular, has captured Michael’s interest, with its distinctly Irish flavor. He and Karen also share a fascination with the bagpipes so stay tuned … a piper might soon pop up at a Wild Blue Yonder show!