With dozens of high-profile performances under her belt and tens of thousands of YouTube hits, you might say 13-year-old singer-songwriter Hannah Richardson is waiting for her big break.
But Hannah, the 2014 Centre Sings winner, would kindly disagree.
“I guess it’s not ‘waiting’ so much as working toward it,” the State College teen said.
At this point, Hannah has been working toward it for more than half her life. As a 6-year-old, she practiced for hours in her room and begged her parents to take her to auditions and competitions. Today, she writes her own songs, films and edits her own videos and sends her work to music venues and industry professionals.
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She does it all with the persistence of someone who successfully talked her way onto a university-student-only email list about performance opportunities.
As with Hannah’s big, Broadway-style voice and intuitive process for writing music, her parents don’t know where she gets her tremendous drive.
“She was always the one pushing, pushing, pushing us,” Mary Richardson said. “Still, today, she’s the one pushing us, sending us emails like, ‘this looks fun’ and ‘can we do this?’ ”
For Hannah, it goes back to being in a church choir in the Richardsons’ hometown of Waynesboro, a small town near the Maryland border. One Easter, she was given a solo and got to sing in front of the church.
She was hooked.
“I just remember really, really loving it and loving the feeling of being there by myself and getting to be in front of people,” Hannah said. “I just loved it.”
From there, she got involved with a dinner theater, where she performed year-round and worked on her acting and singing. In 2011, she won best vocalist and best performer at The North American Country Music Association International in Nashville, Tenn. Then she was accepted for Amateur Night at the Apollo, getting a standing ovation at the iconic New York theater during her second performance there. She has been on that famous stage now 14 times, most recently with the Child Stars of Tomorrow for a holiday special.
Since the Richardson family moved to State College two years ago, Hannah has opened various sporting events with the national anthem. She also has been involved in local theater productions and took top honors in March in the “future fame” category of Happy Valley’s Got Talent.
In February, she opened Thon at the Bryce Jordan Center with John Lennon’s “Imagine.”
Matt Richardson thinks moving to State College has opened up more doors for his daughter because of connections they’ve made through Penn State.
He sees his daughter’s success as a spiderweb of sorts, where each opportunity is connected to the other. Hannah agrees, acknowledging direct connections from accomplishments like winning Centre Sings 2014.
“It’s funny because when you tell your story it kind of sounds like all this stuff happened by luck,” she said. “Every single week we send out songs and articles and anything you can imagine to all these different people and different venues. You hardly ever get a response, but the ones that I have, I’ve been very fortunate that they’ve gone well and those usually are the ones that connect you to others.”
Though she sang in front of a crowd of more than 15,000 people at Thon in February, Hannah said she only had her first bout of nervousness recently while sitting in her Park Forest Middle School classroom. As her original song “Daydream” aired on the radio that day, it blasted through the public address system for the entire school to hear.
“That was more scary to me than the actual singing for people,” she said.
Hannah describes her style as “country-ish pop,” with an eclectic range of musical influences — from Taylor Swift to composer John Williams. Like other modern-day up and comers, Hannah utilizes YouTube as a vehicle to get her music to listeners.
“I’m really into filming, and that has become a huge part of what I do on YouTube and how that fan base has sort of grown more than any other,” she said.
Of almost 100 videos on Hannah’s YouTube channel, the one of 6-year-old Hannah singing “Tomorrow” from “Annie” — and looking every bit the part — has more than 70,000 views. The video Hannah filmed for her song “Daydream” has more than 30,000 views.
When Hannah isn’t singing, acting, writing songs, filming or editing videos, she’s focused on academics and a slew of extracurricular activities including Girl Scouts and Model United Nations. She’ll soon enter the recording studio again with a bunch of new original songs.
Her favorite is called “13,” about the age she knows a little something about.
“In these past couple of years I’ve written a lot of original music, and I feel like original music is wonderful for me because it brings you to another level where you can do your stuff and you get to communicate your own messages and feelings,” Hannah said.
After winning Centre Sings last year, Hannah will return to the Interfaith Human Services fundraiser this year as one of the headliners at the May 16 benefit concert. Also performing are contralto Bonnie Cutsforth-Huber and State High sophomore Riley Roth, who has won three national songwriting awards.
Renea Nichols, a co-director of the 2015 Centre Sings competition, said having rising stars like Hannah and Riley participating shows the true nature of the community event.
“It’s an opportunity for them to learn at an early age that it’s important for them to still give back,” Nichols said.