Chapel Hart At Christmas

For Country Trio Chapel Hart, There's Nothing Like Being Home For Christmas

The trio from Mississippi has been electrifying crowds across the country, but there’s a party in Poplarville on December 24 that they have no plans of missing.

Every once in a while, you meet a person so endearing, so unapologetically authentic and genuinely gifted, that you can’t help cheering for them. America experienced that—times three—when they got wind of Chapel Hart. Everyone who saw their viral America’s Got Talent audition in July instantly fell in love with their witty reimagining of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” and sparkling stage presence. When the women teared up after receiving the coveted Group Golden Buzzer, the nation did too.

A month later, when I met up with the ladies of Chapel Hart (sisters Danica and Devynn Hart and their cousin Trea Swindle) on the set of our photo shoot, I found their energy every bit as infectious as advertised. With a little magazine magic, coordinating Christmas plaids, and a soundtrack of holiday hits that Danica (dubbed “Mrs. Claus” by Devynn and Trea) couldn’t help singing along to, we set to work creating Christmas in August at Circle P Ranch in Mount Juliet, Tennessee.

Although they have only recently captured mainstream attention, the band from Harts Chapel, Mississippi (a community so small you’re better off looking for nearby Poplarville on the map), has been writing music, releasing albums, and fighting for a spot in the country-music world for years. They moved through our day with the ease of seasoned professionals and the joy of kids on Christmas morning. They even have a system to coordinate their facial expressions. Call out a number from one to five, and watch the women fall perfectly in sync. It was easy to see why the band is known for chill-inducing harmonies. They took the day in stride, finishing one another’s sentences, fixing one another’s hair, and cracking up over inside jokes. It’s the kind of connection you might associate with twins, or (in this case) three women who grew up with 108 cousins in a tiny Deep South community named after their giant family.

It’s clear that Chapel Hart is magic on camera, but what’s more impressive is that they’re even better in person. Case in point: I was quietly observing them choosing their wardrobe when Trea walked up with a big smile and outstretched hand. She isn’t the type of person to wait for an introduction. Two minutes later, we were bonding over our shared love of food and mutual fascination with the Midwest’s state fair butter-cow tradition. At the end of the day, Danica declared the ranch owner, Rufus Page, her new best friend and all three women spent an extra half hour chatting and taking pictures with the crew after the shoot wrapped up.

And Chapel Hart is just getting started. Since our interview, they’ve made their Grand Ole Opry debut, joined Darius Rucker on his recent song “Ol’ Church Hymn,” and worked on a remake of late country icon Loretta Lynn’s “Fist City” after she’d requested they do a twist on one of her hits. Here, they share their no-frills upbringings in Mississippi, the wise words they’ve gotten from family, the holiday traditions they’ll always cherish, and the Southern foods they can’t live without.

Devynn Hart
Devynn, the baby of the group, likes to think of country icon Dolly Parton as the band's fairy godmother.

David McClister

Growing Up In Harts Chapel

“We’re probably the least sensitive people about stuff because we were surrounded by all our cousins who would rib us. We talked about each other all the time,” Danica recalls. “We played football games on Sundays, and we didn’t not get tackled because we were girls. If we caught the ball, it was our time to shine or we were taking a hit.”

“It also taught us how to be innovative because, honey, there is nothing to do in Harts Chapel,” says Devynn. “We had to create our own fun growing up. We’d have kickball games and use a plate for home base—or a T-shirt, a shoe, whatever we could find.”

What The World Should Know About Mississippi

“It’s filled with the most loving and giving people you could ever find,” says Trea. “A lot of times, Mississippi may be toward the bottom of the list, economically speaking, but the people are so generous. You’ll meet a stranger walking down the street and get invited inside for dinner. It’s like a community, and there’s a lot of love.”

“Back in the day, my grandma had all those grandkids and all these people who would randomly drop off their children [in town to play],” Danica remembers. “I would look through the refrigerator and cabinets, and she had nothing. But she would set up the pots and was like, ‘Y’all, get ready for dinner.’ I thought, ‘This woman is crazy. Ain’t nothing in here.’ But as we were getting ready, people would knock on the door and say, ‘Ms. Bea, I had some extra greens in the garden, so I wanted to drop these off for you and the kids.’ And someone else would be cleaning out their pantry and say, ‘I’ve got some canned goods if you want to have them.’ It was coming from almost nowhere. My grandmother had this—maybe the word is faith—like no one I’ve ever seen in my life. I try to remind myself to have that kind of faith even when I don’t see it. You’ve just got to believe it and move forward, and those things will come. That’s what Mississippi is to me.”

Their Favorite Seasonal Traditions

“My whole life, our family has always had a holiday party—usually it’s on Christmas Eve. At around 5 or 6 p.m., everybody starts coming to the home of whoever is hosting it. Then we eat, hang out, and mingle—all of that good stuff. When the clock strikes 11 p.m., we start gathering around and having a devotional and praying for the next year. I don’t think I’ve ever stayed awake for a whole one because it goes long,” Devynn says, laughing.

Danica Hart
Front woman Danica loves Christmas and says she would start decorating for the holiday in October if she knew she wouldn't catch flak from her family.

David McClister

Dishes They Can't Celebrate Without

“Our grandma had 17 kids, and almost all of them have their staple recipes,” Trea explains. “My mom does the potato salad, and I hate it because it means I’m peeling potatoes in, like, 12-hour shifts two days before.”

Other notable contributions to the family feast? Grilled and smoked meats like ribs, brisket, and pulled pork from Danica and Devynn’s dad; a cornucopia of hors d’oeuvres from Aunt Bridget; yeast rolls from Aunt Bev; and plenty of baked goods from Aunt Marilyn, who also makes very special pistolettes (or pistols), which Devynn describes as “seafood Rotel from heaven that’s stuffed inside a smaller version of po’boy bread.” Danica jokes, “You can bring a bad dish if you want, but you’ll just take it right back home full.”

Country Stars They'd Invite To Christmas Dinner

“I’m going to say Gretchen Wilson, because I feel like everybody talks about people in their family, and I think she would join in on that,” says Devynn. For Danica, Garth Brooks is the top choice. “I think it would be a hoot. We could just be doing one-uppers all night.” And Trea would extend the invitation to Big & Rich. “I feel like if we’re all together, we’re turning up,” she says. “We’re drinking, eating, and having a good time.”

Separate Paths To Pursuing Music

“The realization that I wanted to do this as a career came in waves,” says Trea, who set aside her childhood dreams of being a singer to focus on a more traditional course but eventually came back to her passion.

For Danica, music was always the only way. “When I was in the second grade, they gave us this assignment: ‘What do you expect for the third grade?’ I was like, ‘I want to learn how to divide, and I want to be a star.’ It didn’t happen in the third grade, but praise the Lord, if you just hang in there. I put my focus on being a star, but that division part is still a little rough for me,” she says with a laugh.

And then there’s Devynn. “I was terrified to sing before joining the band,” she admits. “I wouldn’t do it in church because I was too scared. Never in a thousand years did I imagine myself singing, but a couple of years into it, I went through some stuff and had this realization that what we do kind of heals people. I love to help others and got to a place where I was like, ‘This is what I’m supposed to be doing.’ ”

Trea Swindle
Trea's favorite meal when she's home in New Orleans is fried chicken from Hank's Super Market.

David McClister

Best Advice They've Received From Their Family

Danica says, “Be proud of who you are. When I was younger, I loved wearing my cowboy boots and hat. We’d go out, and people would look and laugh. I just remember even as a kid, I thought, ‘I don’t care if they laugh. I love wearing my hat and boots.’ It taught me that the greatest lesson in life is that it just doesn’t matter. If it’s who you are, be proud of it, stand in it, and be bold.” Devynn agrees, “It’s just staying true to yourself. I think that’s one thing that’s helped us get as far as we have in our careers. We’re not trying to fit a mold.”

What Being Southern Means To Them

“When I think of the word ‘Southerner,’ the first thing that comes to mind is just being in nature—running barefoot, swimming in the creek, playing in the backyard with your crazy cousins,” Trea says. “And more than anything, good food. I feel like ‘Southerner’ is synonymous with ‘delicious.’ ”

“Being a Southerner means everything to me,” Danica says. “There’s something about Southern hospitality. Everybody waves and says hello, people cook for each other, and they still gather on Sundays. All of that makes it one of the highest honors you can have. That’s just a great title to me.”

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles