Ashley McBryde Fulfills Lifelong Band Director Dream as Inaugural CMA Foundation Unified Voices for Music Education Artist Ambassador

Ashley McBryde Fulfills Lifelong
Band Director Dream as Inaugural CMA Foundation
Unified Voices for Music Education Artist Ambassador

Ashley McBryde has partnered with the CMA Foundation as its inaugural Unified Voices for Music Education Artist Ambassador and is using her voice to advocate for music education. Photo Credit: Daniel Meigs
CMA Foundation Unified Voices for Music Education Artist Ambassador Ashley McBryde talks with music educators across the country during a Teaching Artist Webinar Series moderated by CMA Foundation Executive Director Tiffany Kerns and UVfME Band Instruction Lead Dr. William J. Earvin. Photo Credit: CMA
Prior to her involvement as a Unified Voices for Music Education Artist Ambassador, Ashley McBryde took part in the CMA Foundation’s “It Starts With M.E.” campaign. Photo Credit: Jeremy Cowart/CMA

By Dan Hyman

Back when she was in high school, Ashley McBryde knew her escape. On any given day, no matter what was happening in her life, come fifth period — and, more specifically, band practice with Mr. Bruner — the young student retreated to her happy place. Sure, the Mammoth Spring, AR native had been playing guitar since age 5, but being part of a group effort like the school band was something entirely different. It was her form of community. “Playing an instrument and playing music is a safe place,” she says now, looking back. “It’s freedom for however long you’re holding that instrument in your hand. Even though I wasn’t the fastest kid in gym class, I’d go play in the band and feel awesome for an entire hour of the day.”

Since then, McBryde’s lifelong love of music has taken her to once-unimaginable heights. The CMA Award-winning Country Music artist has racked up countless awards, released a pair of beloved albums and currently stands as one of Nashville’s most cherished talents. But she’s never forgotten those early years, back when her now-cherished music education helped guide that young girl down an ever-winding path to the present. It’s why McBryde says she was nothing short of ecstatic to recently be named the CMA Foundation’s inaugural Artist Ambassador, as part of its Unified Voices for Music Education (UVfME) initiative. As an Artist Ambassador, McBryde — who attended Arkansas State University to be a band director before heading to Nashville to pursue her dreams of Country Music stardom — worked with music educators in a variety of ways. This included creating an original band lesson video, meeting virtually with music educators to discuss challenges they are facing during this time and sharing how music education led to her career in Country Music.

“I said, ‘Yes!’ immediately. I don’t even think they were done asking the question,” she recalls with a laugh, describing how she was first approached with the opportunity by the CMA Foundation. McBryde, who released her critically acclaimed and CMA Album of the Year nominated follow-up last year, Never Will, explains how she’d been interested in helping the CMA Foundation in any capacity ever since she filmed a short video three years ago as part of its “It Starts with M.E. (Music Education)” campaign. “When I did that I immediately let them know, ‘Hey, music education was my major, so if there’s ever a local band director that needs help with, say, marching camp or help with their drum major, I literally used to do this all summer every summer while I was in college.’” Now, as an Artist Ambassador, McBryde adds, not only will she be able to assist a local band director, but even better, “I can help as many band directors and students as they get involved in the program!”

An additional part of the program, she explains, is helping music educators cope with the current moment they’re facing in their careers. As the nation battles the COVID-19 pandemic, many music educators have been forced to teach their students virtually; McBryde says she can only imagine how much of a challenge that must be and how much stress it puts upon teachers and band directors. So she jumped at the opportunity through the CMA Foundation’s Teaching Artist Webinar Series to take a Zoom call with a group of music educators from across the country and help them navigate these challenging times. McBryde says it’s crucial for music educators to feel supported right now. “This is my chance to tell band directors, ‘What you do is so important. I love you. All of Country Music loves you.’”

One way she is offering support is by making a video lesson for students. During college, she explains, she frequently taught marching band skills — how to read a drill chart, how to find your position on the field, how to take a piece of music and memorize it — but this has been an exciting first chance for her to teach younger students integral skills such as intervals, tone and how to build a scale.

McBryde left college early to pursue her singer-songwriter dreams. “This feels like getting to go back,” she says of having the chance to teach students as well as celebrate music education as a whole. “It’s about giving back and going, ‘OK, I finally got to do it. Even if it’s just one lesson.’”

And while she admits her primary objective as a Unified Voices for Music Education Artist Ambassador is to help others, she can’t deny that it’s just as thrilling an opportunity for her own musical life. Having been forced off the road due to the pandemic, “This is something to keep my mind and my hands busy,” she says with a smile. “Because sure, Netflix can keep my brain busy for hours,” McBryde adds with a laugh, “but this, more importantly, keeps my musical mind busy.”

Following McBryde’s lead, Jimmie Allen and Lindsay Ell have signed on to support music educators and students through the collective. More Unified Voices for Music Education Artist Ambassadors will be announced throughout the year. 

To watch McBryde’s lesson and learn more about the CMA Foundation’s Unified Voices for Music Education initiative, visit