Sophomore Jillian Upshaw drums up musical success


Courtesy of Max Wix

Max Wix

Being a 14-year-old female drumming prodigy, like Wilson sophomore Jillian Upshaw, is nearly unheard of. Recently seen jamming out to “Lemon” by N.E.R.D at the homecoming talent show, winning a $10,000 scholarship in a music competition, and playing one-note samba at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Upshaw has rocked the city with her musical ability. 

Upshaw’s first memory of music is with her mom. “She would play SiriusXM, and I would sing with her,” Jillian recalled. Particularly, she remembers singing, “caandy girl, you’re aaall my world!” 

 Soon, Upshaw’s love of music went deeper than singing along to the radio—by her fourth birthday she was playing her first instrument—a pink guitar from Toys R Us that her dad surprised her with. When Upshaw was five, she began to play the bass guitar. Her future as a guitarist looked bright, and her dad always said she would be famous for it. 

But Upshaw wasn’t satisfied. She discovered her final and favorite instrument to play in elementary school: the drum set. In class, she consistently annoyed her peers and teachers by tapping on any surface she could reach. “[Teachers] would have meetings with my mom and say, she’s tapping on the desks and I don’t know how to stop it!” Upshaw said.  “I remember I went to a music store and they had this blue sparkle kit, and I was like, ‘I gotta play that.’”

At 11 years old Upshaw lost her father, the man who gave her the first instruments she ever owned. Rather than giving up, her drive to be a great musician skyrocketed. “There was a huge change in my playing,” she explained, “I just played a lot.” Music helped Upshaw negotiate the worst time of her life.

 After she graduates in 2022, eight years from her first lesson, Upshaw hopes to attend Berklee College of Music. She recently won the DC-CAP all stars music competition and received $10,000 to go towards her college funds. Soon after, she opened for the famous drummer Terri Lyne Carrington at the African American History Museum.

This year, she is a part of Wilson’s jazz band, Drumline, and the Blues Alley Youth Orchestra and is constantly playing at different events throughout the city. So keep an eye (or an ear) out for the young rising star Jillian Upshaw.