Musical prodigies have always held an odd fascination over us, going all the way back to Li’l Wolfie Mozart. American popular music has been a particularly fertile ground for young talent, from Judy Garland to Gayla Peevey to Michael
Jackson. Some, like Peevey (the preteen moppet of I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas fame), are just flashes in the pan, and some endure after the novelty wears off and after puberty is done adjusting the voice.

Billy Gilman made the Billboard country charts at age 11, the youngest person to do so since Brenda Lee charted with Dynamite in 1957. His surprisingly powerful voice made his 2000 debut album One Voice a minor sensation, spawning two top country hits and earning a gold record. Gilman continued to beguile with a Christmas album featuring a duet with fellow prodigy Charlotte Church, and then 2001’s Dare to Dream, which hit number six and produced two more hit singles.

While appearing on The Larry King Show, Gilman met young Mattie Stepanek, a muscular dystrophy sufferer whose published poetry had made the best seller lists. Inspired by the courage and emotion in Stepanek’s poems, Gilman commisioned some of Nashville’s top songwriters to set them to music. The result was his 2003 album
Music Through Heartsongs.

Now well into his teen years, Gilman has proved able to hold his audience through the power and conviction of his singing. Youth may be the novelty, but what really matters is that you mean what you sing.