Music NewsDrew Questell: The Prodigy from Southern Wake
By: Sheryl Bryant
Recently, I was privileged to cover a wonderful performance by Piedmont blues artist Boo Hanks at the NC Museum of History. It was here that I was first introduced to an impressive young man from Fuquay-Varina who was strikingly good on harmonica, and who accompanied Boo on several songs.
The story of Andrew Thomas Questell, II, is truly an inspirational journey. Putting things into perspective, you must first remember that Drew has just reached the age for a full driver’s license and the age to vote last month, and he is now preparing to graduate from Fuquay-Varina High School. In less than two decades, Drew has achieved a measure of musical success greater than many artists achieve in a lifetime. The level of dedication, focus and self-discipline that Drew displays in academics, his music, and in his work with the Questell Foundation is incredible. Drew also displays a keen insight into the bigger picture of life and the value of humankind that far exceeds his age. Most of us just don’t meet teenagers of this caliber every day, but Drew Questell is proof they exist.
Drew was born in Tampa, Florida on March 4th, 1994. Drew’s mother and father were from North Carolina, and he and the family returned to live here when Drew was a year old. As a young boy, Drew visited with his grandfather and he occasionally picked up his grandpa’s guitar and experimented with it. Then, at the age of ten, Drew received guitar lessons as a Christmas gift. Thus began Drew’s journey into the world of all things music. After long years of practice and hard work, Drew is now adept at playing acoustic and electric guitars and can play lead, rhythm and bass guitar. He currently is the youngest member, lead vocalist and guitarist for the Express, a five piece band.
Drawn from his love of the sounds of Little Walter and Brownie McGee, Drew became interested in playing the mouth harp and he now excels on harmonica. Drew also has some experience with keys and percussion by dabbling with the piano and drums. Drew writes and composes songs that he describes as a “melting pot, a sort of mixture of all the good elements of many genres of music”. In addition to his love of the blues, Drew enjoys listening to R&B and jazz.
Drew ‘s love for the blues arose from listening to blues greats like Sonny Terry, Eric Clapton, B.B. King and Robert Johnson. The amazing John Dee Holeman introduced Drew to the Piedmont Blues and Drew has been lucky enough to learn from and play/perform with phenomenal Piedmont legends like Mr. Holeman, Algie Mae Hinton, Boo Hanks, George Higgs, Tad Walters and others. Drew was also privileged to play at the home of the legendary Joe Thompson, the string band fiddling virtuoso from Mebane, North Carolina who sadly passed away in February of this year.
When he was 14 years old, National Public Radio’s Dick Gordon was so taken by Drew he interviewed him for the program “The Story”. When Drew was 15 years old, he saw firsthand the plight of musicians whose basic needs were often not being met, and this genuine concern for others less fortunate was the catalyst for what ultimately became the *Questell Foundation. The Foundation allows the Questell family to give back to the musical community they love and respect. The Questell Foundation is also a way for the family to pay forward their blessings. The Foundation’s mission is to preserve and support the Blues and traditional music of our region. It is a non-profit, volunteer organization that does outstanding work to keep the culture and history of the Blues alive and accessible to everyone. To my knowledge, Drew Questell is the only person of his age in North Carolina that is carrying on the tradition and who is active in the preservation of Piedmont Blues and other traditional music. It is my wish and the wish of Drew and the Questell family that other young musicians may also be inspired to embrace this and other music that is losing popularity unless more people like Drew become involved in saving it.
Drew has performed for the USO and performs on behalf of the Foundation in support of charitable groups like the Food Bank of Eastern North Carolina. In 2011, Drew was selected for the NC Honors Chorus and in March of this year, Drew and the Fuquay-Varina High School Chorus were invited to the play the prestigious Carnegie Hall.
A well-rounded fellow, music is not Drew’s only interest. His hobbies include scuba diving; backpacking, camping; kayaking; boating; recording music and hanging with his two dogs, Tober and Paisley. He also enjoys spending time with his close friends including his girlfriend, Ashtine. Drew also has a strong work ethic, it is clear he understands that nothing comes for free and that he must work hard at anything he pursues. He currently holds a part-time job as a waiter at Daniel’s on Main restaurant in Fuquay-Varina.
Drew’s future is bright and it’s comforting to know that he does not feel entitled: he is grateful for all of his gifts and talents and doesn’t take them for granted. Drew will be attending Appalachian State University in the fall and majoring in Music Industry Studies. He is considering possibly double majoring in Music Education, and is interested in some day working in the audio industry in either product development or in design.
I would be remiss if I didn’t credit Drew’s parents for their huge contribution to Drew’s success and to the mission . Without the support, love and devotion of Andrew and Donna Questell, their only child agrees that he could not have reached these goals. Drew’s parents have been instrumental in the development of his talents and selfless in their contributions to The Questell Foundation and they encourage and support Drew in any interest he pursues.
I am proud to present to you Drew Questell given all he represents as a singer, composer, instrumentalist, philanthropist and musician. As a parent, I am glad to share this young man’s encouraging story of ambition; dedication; respect, devotion, and perseverance.
It is my hope that this teen’s success story will serve as a role model for any young person who has an interest in keeping the Blues and traditional music alive and vibrant.
Drew’s next gig is at the Swanfest series in Swansboro, North Carolina. Held at the Pavillion at Olde Town Square,this free concert is scheduled for Sunday, May 27, 2012, from 6:30-8:00 PM.
*The Questell Foundation: For information, access www.questellfoundation.org.