At first glance, it might seem like Baltimore songwriter/singer Shelby Blondell has it all. The 24-year-old only began writing and performing about 5 years ago, but her fame has skyrocketed—her original songs are a hit on the European charts, and she has opened for everyone from a cappella group Pentatonix to Howie Day to Disney Channel star Sabrina Carpenter.
But things haven’t always been so easy for Blondell. The artist was born with craniosynostosis, a brain condition that causes high intracranial pressure. (In fact, Baltimore’s own Ben Carson performed her first craniotomy.)
“It’s normally caught at a really young age, but they didn’t discover [my condition] until I was a little bit older,” Blondell says. “At that point, the surgery was more risky. The option was either to do it, knowing that it might not go well, or to not, knowing that I’d be blind by the age of 21.”
Her family decided to take the risk, and though Blondell’s journey hasn’t been easy, it’s certainly been worth it. She says she suffers from headaches daily and is missing parts of her skull, but if anything, her experiences have heightened her creativity.
“When I was in high school, a girl in my class was at St. Jude’s [Children’s Hospital] for treatment for brain tumors,” Blondell says. “I planned an event for her, Concert for a Cure, that turned into an annual thing. In the final year, some of my friends persuaded me to go up and perform.”
Blondell had written a song in honor of her friend about a woman in the hospital who was “alone, but feeling hope”—and when the time came to perform it, Blondell’s life was changed forever.
“I looked out on the crowd and saw their reactions and I was like ‘This is a look at how many lives you can touch,’” she says. “In that moment, I knew that this was a way to combine a passion and a career and it was what I wanted to do.”
She pushed forward, putting tons of time into networking, writing, performing, and promoting her work—and it’s paying off. She studied entrepreneurship in college and is now pursuing her MBA at University of Baltimore to help her manage herself…and her pet project, The Sheller.
Yep, music isn’t Blondell’s only creative outlet. She is also the inventor of a crab sheller/bottle opener hybrid called The Sheller (a play on her first name), for which she now has a patent pending.
“It was completely random,” she says. “I was eating crabs and drinking beer, switching back and forth between my knife and my bottle opener, and I was like ‘this is ridiculous.”
She went home and worked on a cardboard prototype that turned into the flat, metal, and Maryland flag-emblazoned tool. She plans to work in visits to trade shows and other events around her performance schedule, as well as the production of new singles and videos.
“September is making me go a little crazy,” she says, “but I love it all.”