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FAMILY CELEBRATES DAN + SHAY’S SUCCESS

Ever since he was old enough to walk, Dan + Shay singer-songwriter Shay Mooney has been a singer with a soft spot for other people.

Those words are spoken by the Van Buren High School graduate’s mother, Natural Dam resident Cindy Mooney, who calls Dan + Shay’s commercial and artistic success in country music a blessing that is “surreal.” The first time she heard Dan + Shay’s No. 1 single, “Nothin’ Like You,” over the intercom system in Walmart, she gasped, smiled and almost fainted.

“When I heard that, I was in shock,” said Cindy. “Shay has always loved to sing — it’s his passion and it’s a natural thing for him. I always knew Shay would sing, but I never dreamed of this level of success. I knew Shay would be successful, but this kind of success is amazing.”

Known for the songs “Tequila,” “My Side of the Fence,” “19 You + Me,” “Speechless” and “From the Ground Up,” Dan + Shay recently were named the CMT Duo of the Year. They also will be among those performing for the annual New Year’s Eve Ball Drop event in New York’s Times Square.

And all of this success has occurred over the past four years following the moment Shay met Dan Smyers at a house party in Nashville, Cindy said. Shay, who didn’t know Dan at the time, was invited to the party by another friend. Once Shay was introduced to Dan, the two hit it off immediately, talking music and harmonizing their vocals for the other party-goers.

“Dan was in Nashville a little longer than Shay, so he knew a few people in the music industry,” Cindy said. “They already had a whole album’s worth of material before they presented their music to people in the music industry, and they signed with Warner Music Nashville.

“The president of Warner told them, ‘You’re not leaving until you sign with us,’” she added with a laugh. “The people at Warner were blown away. They said, ‘This is talent. We have to have this.’”

Shay, who turns 27 today and lives with his wife, Hannah Billingsley, and their 1-year-old son, Asher, near Nashville, was barely past his toddler years when he began singing during worship services inside Grandview Assembly of God in Natural Dam. It was during those moments in church when Shay started to gain confidence.

“Shay was never shy about getting in front of people and singing,” Cindy said. “And later all of our kids — Shay, Erica and Gabrielle — would sing as a trio. They actually won the Crawford County Fair and won at the state level.”

When he was older, Shay was a member of the area band Fuller’s Field, which performed Christian rock and other styles. He also attended a ministry school in Allison Park, Pa., before taking his music-based dream to Nashville.

“Shay, like his sisters, was a good kid,” Cindy said. “Growing up, Shay was very tender-hearted and passionate about everything he did.

“And he always made it fun,” she added. “If you were around him, you were going to have fun. Shay is full of life and he’s joyful. He loves life and he loves to make people happy.”

Both Erica and Shay’s father, Rick Mooney, agreed.

“People ask me if I am surprised by Shay’s success, and I always say that it doesn’t surprise me at all,” said Erica. “Shay has always had that charisma, and his talent level was so amazing at an early age.”

When they were younger, Shay, Erica and Gabrielle would listen to Rascal Flatts albums. Ironically, Shay now holds a solid connection with Rascal Flatts.

“Rascal Flatts have cut two songs that Shay has written,” Erica said. “Now Shay is getting to write with them and sing with them.

“And Shay is so sweet and everyone loves him, and I’m so excited for him to be this successful,” she added.

Rick Mooney is equally proud of Shay’s accomplishments and ability to remain humble. He keeps Dan + Shay memorabilia in one of his home’s rooms.

“Rick always tried to instill in his kids a good work ethic,” Cindy said. “If you are going to make anything of yourself and be independent, you have to work hard. All there kids have good work ethic.”

Shay continues to be a positive influence on his relatives and friends, according to Erica.

“Shay grew up with two sisters, and sometimes we sisters would get girly and upset about something someone else said or did, but Shay would always be so positive and sweet,” she said. “Even though I was the older sister, that is something Shay has taught me — be nice to everybody and always stay the same. I’m Shay’s biggest fan.”