Joyce Shearer is a good example of a person who becomes involved in the arts later in life, but who is transformed by them. A native of Rocky Mount, North Carolina, Shearer sang older country songs and listened to her mother tell jokes while growing up, but she did not perform in public until she was nearly fifty years old.
Shearer got married young and moved around the country with her family. She married a military man who later brought her back to his home state of Mississippi, where they settled in rural Jones County. “Miss Joyce,” as she is known among musicians in east Mississippi, got her start I music as a guest singer at a weekly show held in Ellisville, Mississippi. Shearer remembers when she first started being so nervous that “even my toenails were shaking.” She persevered and by the late 1980s, she was running her own weekly country music variety show based in Laurel, Mississippi, “The Country Picking Place.”
“Miss Joyce” began as a singer but soon branched out. When her back-up group needed a bass player, she bought a bass guitar and taught herself the instrument. She also began adding humor to her act. Her mother had been a joke teller when she was growing up, so Shearer began collecting jokes from family and friends and including them in her act. In some places today, she is known as much for her jokes as for her singing.
The Country Picking Place closed its doors in the mid-1990s, but Shearer remains an active musician, performing throughout east and central Mississippi. She does weekly performances at a number of nursing homes throughout the region. “Miss Joyce” also is a regular at several of the local “opries” in the area, most recently serving as the resident bass player for the Cajun Country Music Show, held in the Nanih Waiya community in Winston County. Shearer has also been a featured performer on the Roots Reunion live radio show and was featured in the Mississippi Arts Commission’s “Sounds from Around the Corner” radio series, broadcast on Mississippi Public Broadcasting in 2004.
Although she does not earn a great deal from her music, Shearer delights at the number of places she’s been able to play and is always eager for another chance to perform. She is also an enthusiastic dancer and quilter. “I have had a full life,” she says. “If I missed anything, it wasn’t my fault.”