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Aspiring singer draws inspiration from grandfather, envisions Broadway

Rob Gebhart

Jori Hollenbeck had only sung one verse of the national anthem for sound check at the state wrestling championships when a little boy came up to her and handed her a business card.

It was from the boy’s father. After hearing that one verse, the organizer of the Rocky Mountain National Wrestling Tournaments already knew he wanted Hollenbeck to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the national championship.

Singing at the Pepsi Center in Denver in front of about 18,000 people didn’t phase the Moffat County High School senior. She’s been performing since she was 4 years old, when she sang “Daddy’s Hands” by Holly Dunn at a Future Farmers of America convention.

But it wasn’t always like that. Indeed, her first performance almost didn’t happen. The FFA’s state officers had asked her to sing “Daddy’s Hands” for her dad, Dean Hollenbeck, because as the FFA state supervisor, he was like a father to them, Jori said. But it was storming that night, and the echoing thunder scared Jori so badly her mother, Brenda Hollenbeck, had to bribe her with a baby doll to get her to go onstage.

Now it’s her mother that gets nervous before a performance, Jori said and Brenda Hollenbeck admitted.

“We have to stay apart at performance time. I don’t even breathe until the song is over,” Brenda Hollenbeck said.

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That’s rough, because the national anthem is a long, slow song. At the Pepsi Center, she’d bought her daughter four bottles of water before she’d even drank one. But she was only trying to calm her nerves, as she hoped Jori would hit every note just right.

The national anthem is a notoriously challenging song to sing, because of the wide range of high and low notes a singer must reach.

But wrestling coach Roman Gutierrez told her she needed to send her tape for consideration. That was in December, and Jori said she constantly called the Pepsi Center for the results.

Dean Hollenbeck had always encouraged Jori to learn the national anthem. Her brother serves in the armed forces and her family patriotically respects the military. Dean Hollenbeck also realized that because it is a difficult song, it could be a good way to get started in the singing industry. Country singer Reba McEntire got her start singing the national anthem, he said.

“Sometimes I like to kid that when I hear her sing I see dollar signs,” he said.

Both father and daughter share the hope that singing may work out as a career for Jori. She always has been told she has a unique voice.

Brenda Hollenbeck said that different Hollenbecks have played some instruments or done some singing, but no one has displayed Jori’s musical talent.

But Jori fondly recalls her late grandfather as a musical influence. He played the drums in a band, and was close to his granddaughter. It was homecoming weekend during Jori’s freshman year when he died of a heart attack.

“He was the kind of grandfather that whenever you were feeling down he would make your day that much better,” she said.

Jori’s grandmother is sending her grandfather’s drum set to her, and she’s looking forward to learning that instrument.

While living in Denver five years ago, she performed at the VFW on Friday nights, singing in the dining room for the evening crowd. She’d stick to country songs by artists like Shania Twain. People would give her tips for her performance, but her parents made her donate the money to charities.

In school, she sang with the choir in the alto section for a time, but quit because she is a soprano and an alto, and the section limited her vocal range.

Quitting choir didn’t hinder her. Hollenbeck can often be found performing around Craig, whether she’s recording Christmas songs at KRAI or singing at Chamber of Commerce mixers at the Community First Bank.

And she aims for more. Last year, she recorded a tape at The Other Place to send to Star Search. With the help of friends, she set up a stage and borrowed video equipment.

She wasn’t selected by the show but she intends to audition again this year. After graduating from high school, she plans to enroll in Colorado Northwestern Community College’s new theater program, with hopes of someday performing on Broadway.

“I love to sing. Music makes hearts happy. If I can put a smile on someone’s face by singing, it’s worth all the hours of practicing,” she said.

Rob Gebhart can be reached at 824-7031 or by e-mail at

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