An Unexpected Journey
When he was 21, Billy Prater, known as Boxer (“a lot of people don’t even know my real name,” He says), picked up a job at a surface coal mine, not knowing that his life was about to change. “I was the new guy, so the guys that worked there said that everybody that starts there has to sing a song,” He says. “The only song I knew was a song I remember hearing my dad sing by Hank Williams called There’s a Tear in My Beer.”
Even though his dad played music his whole life, it had never interested Boxer, but when he started singing to his coworkers, they asked him to sing again. “The guys kept wanting me to sing, so I learned more songs and would sing for them over the radio,” he says. He didn’t know if he was any good, but he figured “I’m either halfway decent at this, or I’m giving them something to laugh at, and either way was fine with me.” From that spark, a passion for singing began to develop. Eventually, he found himself connected to some guys in the area who needed a singer.
Boxer worked with them a couple of times, but he didn’t like the feeling of singing and not doing anything else. “So I started to learn guitar,” He says. “It was a long and painful process, and many days I just wanted to wrap my guitar around a tree, but I kept at it.” While he did have the help of online tutorials, the players in his life, and his dad, it was all about putting in the hard work to get it. “Dad insisted that I needed to just learn it on my own, because it would help me in the long run.”
Unfortunately, after getting started, anxiety and depression began to take their toll on Boxer, and he took a break of about 5 years from music. Eventually, his wife pushed him to return to music, and he started posting videos of himself singing on TikTok. “They kinda took off, and people started messaging me wanting me to play shows, and it took off from there.”
Fast forward to now, and Boxer is fast becoming one of the most recognized local musicians in the area after winning the 2023 Coalfields Got Talent competition– which, believe it or not, he didn’t know about until the morning of the competition. “A friend of mine messaged me and asked if I was gonna enter,” He says. Thinking it was a kids’ talent show, he said no. “She explained to me what it was and helped me get signed up, so if it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t even have gotten to be in it.”
Upon arrival, Boxer planned to play a song he was familiar with, only to change his mind halfway through the competition. “All these people were singing these beautiful gospel songs, so I changed my mind last second, as my name got called,” He says. “I sang a song I wrote for my cousin who had recently passed away, called Shelley’s Song, and the judges seemed to love it.”
They certainly did love it, and his last minute decision won him first place, which he says has been great for his self-esteem. “It’s kinda given me a sense of validation,” he says. “I’m my own worst critic, and I’ve always felt like the only thing I was good for was singing to a bunch of drunks around a bonfire somewhere.” Needless to say, this event and his success has changed his mind, and encouraged him to pursue it in earnest.
These days, Boxer is continuing to work on his music, which he describes as a blend of country, bluegrass, and rock, and has been performing shows throughout the area. From here, he’s planning to use a few lucky connections in Nashville to get some music recorded and get his work out there. It’s something he’s thought about for a while, but “it was never good timing,” he says. “But I’m at a point in my life where I’m ready to take that step and see what it leads to.”
Boxer is excited to share more of his work and help it to find an audience. “My favorite thing about being a musician is being able to create something that people enjoy,” He says. “When I’m singing and I look out and see what I’m doing is effecting someone emotionally, it makes all of the practicing and everything I’ve done to that point worth it.”
Want to keep yourself updated on what Boxer is up to? Check out his Facebook page, where he posts videos, info about shows, and more.
Cover Photo from Boxer Prater