- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 3, 2015

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (AP) - Standing on an overturned egg bucket and using her hairbrush as a microphone, 3-year-old Naomi Hills started singing to live audiences at a very young age.

Of course, her first audience was made up of the poultry on her family’s Clark County, Illinois, farm.

“I started singing to the chickens,” Hills told the Tribune-Star (http://bit.ly/1LHVQEU ), sitting in her rural eastern Illinois home surrounded by flat farm land, miles from the nearest town.

Music was definitely in little Naomi’s blood from a young age. She started singing whenever and wherever she could - at no charge. She didn’t form a band and start taking money for her gigs until she was in her late 30s. Since then, she has written and performed music at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, was a finalist on “You Can Be a Star,” has played nearly every venue in the Wabash Valley and has toured in 33 states and Canada solo and with her band, Spirit Road.

“If you have a passion for music, that’s just what you are,” Hills said. It’s also a release. Performing in front of an audience is where she is most comfortable. “It’s the only time I’m completely happy.”

A few decades have passed since those early years singing to the chickens, and now Hills will be joining 11 others as a new inductee into the Wabash Valley Musicians Hall of Fame. She will receive that honor Sunday in a ceremony at the VFW Post 972 at 12th and Mulberry streets. Hills and other inductees will perform at the event, which begins at noon. Tickets are $12 and can be purchased at the door.

The other inductees are Reva Dailey, Kevin L. Griffin, Mark Huff, Linda Tichenor Jeffries, Robert Medworth, Luann Newburn, Tim J. Ridgway, Jim Southwood, Stacie C. Wagle, Anna White and Sara Wright.

The criteria for the WVHOF is to be at least 50 years old and to have performed music for not less than half of that time, Hayes said.

“It’s nice to be recognized for all of your hard work,” Hills said of the Hall of Fame honor. Musicians try to make their jobs look fun and easy, she said. But it’s truly hard work.

As if to prove the point, Hills was just a little tired Monday because she had performed the day before in Bible Grove, Illinois - a town 90 minutes from her home. She had to make the drive a total of four times because someone forgot to pack her guitar after the gig and she had to drive back and retrieve it Sunday night, she said.

Hills enjoys playing a wide variety of music, including soft rock, gospel, country, country rock and music from the ‘50s. She has a soft spot for the songs “God Bless the USA” and “Wind Beneath my Wings,” she said. Often her audiences love old-style country, such as “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” a song that she says is not her favorite. Growing up, her favorite musician was Elvis Presley.

“I was a rocker,” she said.

Her guitar, a black Ovation, has been with her for the past 35 years. She purchased it from Conservatory of Music in Terre Haute, she recalls. Asked why she hasn’t purchased a newer one, Hills recoils at the idea.

“It’s got a soul,” she said. “After you play it so long, it becomes a part of you.”

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Information from: Tribune-Star, http://www.tribstar.com

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