Emelise Muñoz began singing at age two. At four, she performed at her first open mic; at seven, she secured a permit to sing and play guitar on the streets of Fort Myers, Florida; and this year, at 11, she won Amateur Night at New York’s famed Apollo Theater with a soulful rendition of “The House of the Rising Sun.”
“I don’t even remember a time when I wasn’t singing or playing,” Muñoz says. “I just love the sound of music and have always wanted to make it myself.”
At just 4’6”, the sixth grader is an unassuming source for the powerful pipes and natural charisma that captivates crowds. Born in Florida, Muñoz now lives in Broomfield with her parents and two younger brothers. She frequently posts up around town with her mic, guitar and ukulele, crooning ballads like “I Walk the Line,” “Hallelujah,” and “Build Me Up Buttercup” along with original songs. You may have seen her at the First Friday Art Walk on Santa Fe, or on Boulder’s Pearl Street Mall, or at 15th and Larimer—her favorite spot in the city. She also regularly performs at venues in the Denver area—and across the country from Nashville, Tennessee to Santa Monica, California to Rock Island, Illinois.
We chatted with Muñoz to hear more about her passion for songwriting, her friendship with fellow musical wunderkind EmiSunshine and the lucky boots she wore at The Apollo. Her mom, Valerie Muñoz, chimes in.
Responses have been edited for length and clarity.
5280: Who are your top musical inspirations?
EM: Elton John, Johnny Cash and Elle King—and so many others. When I was really little, we [Muñoz and her parents] used to have a Jeep Wrangler and would take off the top and listen to Elton John and Johnny Cash. I just fell in love with the music.
How many hours a week do you practice?
About 10. I also take two guitar lessons, a voice lesson, and a song writing lesson each week.
By this point you’re no stranger to the stage, having performed in more than 100 shows throughout the years. But do you ever get nervous before you perform?
I never really get nervous in front of an audience. When I was little and first started performing (around age six), I got a little nervous, but I would think about me being in my guitar lesson and that helped. I also love any crowd—and I think they would love my music because I’m not just any other girl. I love old time country and any Americana song, and I think that’s different.
What’s your favorite song at the moment?
Right now I am listening to “Free Falling” by Tom Petty. I just started learning that song a few days ago.
Can you tell me more about your relationship with EmiSunshine, the 13-year-old country music prodigy from East Tennessee?
I’ve always been a fan and a couple years ago, I went to her concert in Florida. I met her after the show, and she said that she could tell I was a musician even though I didn’t have my ukulele out, just from the way I was watching I guess. That first day we met, she taught me “Stairway to Heaven,” and we’ve been performing together ever since.
What’s your favorite song to perform?
I really like “My Church” by Maren Morris. It was pretty tricky to learn—very hard to strum at first—but I liked how hard it was and how cool it sounds now that I got the hang of it.
How many different instruments can you play?
I mainly play electric guitar, acoustic guitar, and the ukulele. But I can also play the banjolele [a banjo-ukulele hybrid], and the guitalele [a guitar-ukulele hybrid]. The guitalele was actually the first instrument I ever learned to play, since I was too small for a regular size guitar.
You’ve played at the Apollo Theater in New York three times this year, winning two Amateur Night performances and coming in second at a third. What was it like performing on that iconic stage in front of such a large audience?
I remember I was out at recess in fifth grade when I got the first call back to perform at the Apollo, back in February. I couldn’t believe it. And then just being there—there were a ton of stars that played there, and I was so honored to step on stage where Michael Jackson had stood. I loved that crowd—they were an incredible crowd.
In addition to singing and playing guitar, you’re also passionate about songwriting and have plans to head to Nashville soon to record an EP of your original music. What’s the songwriting process like for you?
I start with a title and then create a melody. Then, I’ll create the chorus, which is the most important part to me. After I do the chorus, I’ll create verses and then the bridge. My favorite song that I’ve written is a new one called “Shades of Blue.” It’s about heartbreak and this girl who wants revenge. But then she figures out that’s not a good way to go. And she finds a happy life. It was inspired by a woman who came up to me after one of my shows and shared her story.
How do you decide what to wear to a performance?
Picking my outfit is my favorite part of getting ready for a show! I try to always do a vintage outfit and to wear something different every single time, which is getting hard at this point. I really like wearing jeans when I street perform and dresses for shows. I also have my favorite boots that I call my Apollo boots because I wore them at the Apollo Theater. They’re short, navy blue Tucker and Tate boots with heels and a white vintage flower pattern. They’re my good luck boots.
How does Denver compare to the other cities you’ve performed in like Nashville, Fort Myers and Santa Monica?
There is a lot of opportunity in Denver for me and a lot more places to perform than in Fort Myers. I also just love the feel of Denver—the changing seasons. My favorite place to perform around Denver is 15th and Larimer. There’s a beautiful view of downtown and the mountains, and there are usually lots of people that come from Comedy Works and nearby restaurants.
[To Valerie Muñoz]: You’re often standing out in the crowd when Emelise performs. What’s it like watching her perform?
Being out in the crowd, a lot of people don’t know that I’m the mom. I’ll hear a lot of conversations—people saying “How old is she?”—and then they are like “Wait, she can’t be here alone!” It’s fun talking with people. It’s been quite a journey and incredible to watch Emelise’s growth.
[To Valerie Muñoz]: Where would you say that Emelise gets her talent?
People ask me that all the time because both her dad and I have no musical talent. It’s almost like she knew before we knew. Ever since she was old enough to talk, she was singing. She loved to sing to “The Wiggles” [an Australian children’s music group]. She knew at age 4 that she wanted a guitar, and it went from there. Her guitar teacher in Florida saw how quickly she memorized songs—every week it was a new song—and he started inviting her to perform at his gigs. I don’t even remember a time when she was nervous performing, even when she was little like that.
What do you like to do when you’re not making music?
I love skiing in the winter, hiking and biking in the summer and going to the gym with my dad.
Where do you hope your music takes you?
I would love to continue songwriting and make an EP. I’d also love to play at Red Rocks, Grand Ole Opry in Nashville and The Greek Theatre in Los Angeles.
If you go: Emelise performs this Saturday, Oct. 21 at the Mirror Image Arts “I Got Your Back” Gala fundraiser hosted at Converge Denver, 3327 Brighton Blvd. 5:30 p.m. – 9 p.m. Tickets are $40 online and $50 at the door.