The Best of Both Worlds: The Render Sisters Juggle Music Career with High School
For most high school students, days consist of studying for anatomy tests and preparing for the future after graduation, but adolescent life looks a little different for sisters Mary-Keaton and Stella Render. Between homework and weekend plans, the duo from Pine Bluff is making moves as up-and-coming country music artists.
Known locally and professionally as the Render Sisters, Mary-Keaton, 17, and Stella, 16, have been preparing for their successful career for as far back as they can remember.
“We grew up singing,” Stella shares. “We would always go to our grandma’s house, she was a music teacher, and she would play the piano for us while we would sing. One day she told our mom, ‘These girls, they’ve got talent, they have something.’”
The sisters started out as most do in this area, singing with family and at church, but matters took a turn for stardom at around the ages of 11 and 13 when the Render Sisters were officially discovered.
“We were going to Jettway Performance, and they had a group coming in called PCG Artist Development,” Mary-Keaton says. “We got in contact, started commuting to Nashville every month and really became the Render Sisters.”
In their monthly trips to Music City, the girls would spend about two days working and writing music to kick off their careers. The young musicians quickly realized how their lives could be forever changed.
“When we sat down in Bernard Porter’s office, the CEO and owner of PCG Artist Development, he said, ‘Stars have sat in the chairs that you’re sitting in right now,’” Mary-Keaton says. “I was like, ‘Wow,’ you know, they started out just like we did. This is for real; this could really be our life. We could do this.”
Stella chimes in, “I believe it was our second trip to Nashville when we wrote our first song, ‘Count On Me, Count On You.’ I think it’s one of my favorite songs we’ve ever written because it’s about our bond, and we wrote it about each other. This song definitely has some of the most work put in because it’s hard to make your first couple of songs.”
Just as the two bounce off of one another in conversation, the sisters agree that the same goes for their careers. The best friends, sisters and business partners each have their own strengths and weaknesses that when put together, produce music wise beyond the girls’ years.
“We work off each other to make music,” Mary-Keaton says. “For our song ‘Little Dreamer,’ we were driving home from school, and we saw a stray dog on the side of the road. Stella goes, ‘You know what, boys are just like stray dogs. You feed them once, and they keep coming back.’ And I was like, ‘Oh my God, that’s a song.’ She put the idea in her notes, and so whenever we brought it back to our producer and co-writer Britton Cameron, he said, ‘Yeah, that’s a good idea. But let’s back up and think about some more things.’ So we did, and that became our song ‘Little Dreamer.’ Stella is better with finding a melody and just the musical part of the song, and I’m really not. I’m better with words. She knows where I’m going with my vocals and the sound we need, and I know how to fit in the lyrics.”
Whatever the two girls are doing, they’re doing it well. So well, in fact, that they were nominated for two Arkansas Country Music Awards in 2021. The sisters were nominated for the categories Young Artist of the Year and Video of the Year for their debut music video for “Lost Boy.” The Render Sisters were also the first Young Artist of the Year nominee to be nominated in a second award category.
“[Arkansas Country Music Awards] was a really awesome experience. We were just sitting back in the green room with Billy Dean chatting, and it’s just crazy the people that we met that night,” Mary-Keaton says. To make the experience that much sweeter, the Render Sisters gave their debut Arkansas CMAs performance. “Just getting to be on that stage was an honor.”
From the stage to the school hallways to home, the girls are rarely apart. Some sisters might be at each other’s throats because of this, but for the Render Sisters, it works out just fine.
“Well, we are best friends, and we do a lot of stuff together,” Stella says. “I mean, we have a career together, we live together, I can’t drive, so she drives me everywhere. We’re together 24/7, so we do have to take our breaks and decompress, taking a little bit of time to just separate. Honestly, we’ve been blessed with the personalities that God’s given us that we are alike enough that we can be around each other for so long, but also that we’re opposite enough to know our strengths and weaknesses. It’s a pretty good dynamic.”
As self-proclaimed simple people, Mary-Keaton and Stella live the normal teenage life — just with the addition of producing music and planning the next steps in their career.
“I’m a senior this year, and I get out of school at noon, and I go to work,” Mary-Keaton says. “So I go to school, and I’m taking college classes through my school, and I have a job, and I have a career. … It’s definitely about finding a balance, but I love every single thing that I’m doing, so I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Stella says with a laugh, “I am not as busy as that. I don’t really do much besides school and making music. I go to church, and I don’t have a car so I don’t really go anywhere without [Mary-Keaton]. I’m pretty relaxed.”
When it comes to plans for life after high school, the girls have slightly different outlooks on what’s to come individually, but they can both agree on the fate of their music.
“I’d actually like to go to college, so I’m planning on going to college while Stella is still in school, and we’re planning to continue with our music and see if we can grow while we’re apart,” Mary-Keaton explains. “It’s going to be so weird not being together 24/7; we’re so used to being together all the time. I kind of don’t know how we’re going to do it next year, but I know I’ll be coming home.”
Stella says of the future, “I really have no idea. I want to keep doing music, and that’s about all I know. I’m just trying to get through high school at this point.”
“I’m the kind of person that has a checklist on everything that could happen for the next five years, and Stella’s just like, ‘Well, I hope I wake up tomorrow,’” Mary-Keaton says while her sister laughs.
The upcoming year will be an eventful one for the Render Sisters, with new material being released for their ever-growing number of fans.
“We are going to be releasing one more song in the next few months, and then we’re going to be releasing an EP with all of our songs on it that we have up until this point,” Stella says. “For our local people, we’re going to be getting some CDs because we have a lot of, let’s just say ‘mature’ fans who aren’t very familiar with Spotify and Apple Music.”
Comparing their sound to the likes of Kacey Musgraves and the Everly Brothers, the Render Sisters are certain about the message they want to send to listeners. Every song might be different and come from a different place, but the intention is always the same.
“I think all of our songs give hope,” Stella says. “We just always want to show that there’s something to look forward to and a chance for everybody. We hope people can hear that through our harmonies and lyrics. We also try to stay as simple as we can. We want to be relatable.”
Any sister out there can find the Render Sisters’ bond to be relatable in both their harmonies and their chemistry. Mary-Keaton and Stella’s grandmother knew what she was talking about when she took a glimpse into the girls’ futures and saw something special.
“My sister always has something to say. In any situation, she knows the right words to use,” Stella shares before prompting her sister to return a compliment.
“Stella is very constant,” Mary-Keaton says. “If she feels a certain way about me or about somebody or a problem, I know she’s going to stand by what she believes, and I know she’ll always stand by me.”
Photos courtesy Render Sisters.