Georgia Winfree asked her inner child for advice. The answer she got led her and bandmate Katherine Jones on a quest to relay their message of universal family ties through music, with proceeds bankrolling a nonprofit foundation for child abuse victims.
"The first thing that she would like to do is stop other kids from crying," Winfree said. "And how else to do that but through the funnest way, music?"
So Winfree and Jones became Someone's Sister, an acoustic rock duo that has performed throughout the Southeast and released their debut album, "Hand Me Downs," last December.
Over a unique sound that blends smooth acoustic arrangements with layered harmonies, the duo sings anthems of pain, frustration, anger, joy, bliss and defiant triumph - all laced with overtones of Someone's Sister's enduring message: It's OK to be vulnerable.
"It speaks to whatever's real," Winfree said. "It's OK to feel, it's OK to dream, it's OK to admit that you needed an extra hand. It's not child abuse that is represented on the CD so much as is a healing, a connection."
The name Someone's Sister is intentionally ambiguous. Jones said it represents "the concept that even though we all come from different backgrounds and different beliefs, we all are interrelated in the fact that we have all been part of a family. We have all been someone's sister, someone's family member."
Few musicians can afford to live off their craft, but still fewer donate all profits from performances and album sales to charity.
Winfree and Jones are creating a foundation to combat child abuse - but the way they're going about it is as unusually intuitive as their sweeping melodies and aggressive acoustic riffs.
The band's profits help pay the hefty premiums for Winfree's $1 million life insurance policy, which will be invested for a guaranteed 8 to 10 percent annual return upon her death. Each year, a trust will distribute the interest to worthy causes, leaving the principal intact to continue drawing interest.
Winfree, who herself has recovered from child abuse that she characterized as a "strong, high-level, dream-crushing kind of thing" explained that the idea was adapted from a similar attempt by American statesman Benjamin Franklin.
Purchasing a life insurance policy to create the foundation may sound morbid, but Winfree insists it's a celebration of life.
"Everybody's so afraid of death, and ultimately, I think they're afraid of living," she said.
Jones adds that performing for a charitable cause removes the financial pressure that so many musicians face.
"We aren't doing it for ourselves for money, so there is a big freedom in that," she said. "It also allows you to pick venues where you're comfortable. People who do it hand-to-mouth have to take what they can get."
Response to the band's debut CD has been heartening. Someone's Sister ordered a 1,000-copy run of the 12-track "Hand Me Downs," mastered by Wilmington production specialist Karen Kane, who has worked with such greats as Tracy Chapman. After less than seven months, the band is running out of discs and contemplating ordering a second run.
Winfree and Jones swap songwriting credits on the album, with each Sister displaying her distinct lyrical bent. Winfree's tunes are often products of spontaneity, while Jones' songs are more deliberate and often take longer to compose.
"We basically want to try to give people a window into our own lives and experiences, and we hope that they can find something in their lives to connect to as well," Jones said. "It's like having a diary except it's putting it to music instead of writing it down in pages that nobody sees."
For Jones, the songwriting practice is an exercise in unflinching honesty.
"It's a very personal experience for me," she said. "It's almost like coming out on stage naked."
And that honest introspection has been a hit. Someone's Sister has developed a sizeable fan base in eastern North Carolina, and with performances in Virginia, Georgia and South Carolina behind them, Winfree and Jones continually receive the greatest compliment - applause.
"The fact that anyone wants to sit and listen to the music at all is very humbling," Jones said. "I don't even know what to say sometimes. It's the greatest compliment you'll ever get."
Finding a comparative counterpart to Someone's Sister can be dicey work. Jones said one fan characterized the group as "a cross between the Indigo Girls and Alison Krauss with a little bit of Melissa Etheridge thrown in."
Still others have heard harmonic echoes of Crosby, Stills and Nash.
But the group's message is cohesive: We're all family, and we all need each other.
"The most rewarding experience is when our two voices sing and we look out and there's that one person who is experiencing a moment of dance in our song and they make it their own and they connect," Winfree said. "It's not something we're giving them. It's something they're allowing themselves to feel for the first time."
Corey Friedman can be reached at 635-5673 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Works: Account executive, Cox Communications
Writes: Rapidly, spontaneously
Says: "When we're on stage, we're already successful if that one person has that one moment where they feel understood."
Works: Office manager, Allergy East
Writes: Deliberately, reflectively
Says: "We're not sisters, but we probably should be with as much as we bicker sometimes."