When a high school honors student announces she’s heading to New York City to become a street musician, it might sound a little alarming—especially in high-achieving Loudoun. But when that young person is Kate Brunotts, you get the feeling that everything is going to work out just fine.
With her soulful voice and bubbly personality, Brunotts exudes positivity. Her sound and heart of gold have earned her more than 4,000 YouTube followers, and she’ll be releasing her first record in early 2018. Loudouners can catch Brunotts live at Trinity House Cafe on Dec. 29.
Brunotts, now 17 and a senior at Broad Run High School, was a slightly insecure middle schooler who had just learned to play guitar when she launched her YouTube channel. But her personal warmth and lovely warbling voice have captured the attention of listeners around the world, and the community she’s created lifts her up.
“I was very insecure about singing,” she said. “But I ended up just owning it. … I have such a supportive audience. They really helped build up my confidence.”
But it was her decision to tie her music to humanitarian efforts that really made Brunotts want to make her life in music.
“I really care about people and lifting people up, especially since I was born in such a privileged position,” she said. “I think music has such power to connect people.”
Brunotts has donated revenue from her YouTube channel and launched targeted campaigns for a range of nonprofits, from the St. Baldrick’s Foundation to charities involved with aiding Syrian refugees, hurricane relief and other causes.
Brunotts also organizes a monthly Beats and Baked Goods for a Better Cause at her school, playing music and selling homemade cookies in the foyer as students stream in.
“I love music on its own, but having the cause be something bigger and outside myself makes it that much more motivational,” she said. “I’m that much more determined to succeed because there’s something bigger than myself that I’ve got to work for.”
Brunotts has already earmarked earnings from her five-song EP “Grounded,” which she’s slated to record next month, to the nonprofit Music Unites, which supports music education and provides instruments to underprivileged children around the world.
Brunotts said “Grounded” is a reflection of the range of her musical style and interests—and her love of everything from synthesizer-heavy pop to simple acoustic tunes. The record will move from a more heavily-produced sound, full of synthesizers and drum tracks, to a pared down acoustic track with just guitar and vocals.
“I want to show my roots coming up into what I hope to be,” said Brunotts, whose influences range from jazz standards to ’80s pop to contemporary.
“I’m modernly classic,” she said. “I’m a big Sinatra fan. I grew up listening to the ’40s and we’d also listen to classic rock and ’80s pop. I also like the radio and current stuff.”
Fans can get a taste of Brunotts’ acoustic tunes at her regular Trinity House and First Friday performances in Leesburg. Two years ago, Brunotts’ New Year’s resolution was to do an open mic every week, and she began driving all over the DC area for opportunities to play live, and open mics soon turned into regular gigs. Brunotts also started busking in DC during the summer and loves connecting with passersby from all over the world.
“It’s the most exciting thing ever,” she said of her street performances.
Brunotts is wrapping up her final year of high school with a schedule full of honors, Advanced Placement and advanced guitar and choral classes. She’s a member of the BRHS jazz choir and head of the school’s We’re All Human club, focused on suicide prevention and a message of tolerance.
But her heart is already in her next steps. After spending some time in New York over the summer, Brunotts has connected with a community of street musicians and plans to head to New York after graduation.
In addition to her music, which mostly benefits nonprofits, Brunotts also operates a dog-walking business in Ashburn and has been saving money for her NYC adventure. She plans to continue walking dogs and playing music in New York. Brunotts said her parents were initially a little concerned but have confidence in their daughter’s ambitions.
“I’ve been talking about this since eighth grade,” she said. “In the beginning, it was not so great … but I think now that they’re seeing that I’m putting actions behind my words, they’re supportive.”
And Brunotts is full steam ahead in her pursuit of a straightforward life dedicated to service, connection and music.
“[Music is] about empathy, it’s about connecting with people. That’s right in line with service,” she said. “If I can use my music and use my art to do something good, that’s amazing.”