Artist Spotlight: Kelly Willard
Kelly Willard is undoubtedly one of the most recorded artists of the Southern California born Jesus Movement. Her albums date back to 1978, when she brought Blame It On The One I Love to fruition. As a little girl, in Southern California, it's hard to remember a time when one of her albums, or those of her contemporaries, wasn't being played throughout our house. Her albums helped shape my early walk with Jesus, and helped lay a foundation for my siblings and myself to grow in our Christianity.
Kelly has been a friend of Praise Broadcasting Network for a long time. As such, we thought it only fitting that she be our very first Artist Spotlight. Pat was able to ask Kelly the questions we have all really wanted to know. Her love for Jesus really reflects throughout her life and is woven into every one of her recordings.
Read on for the interview.
PBN: Kelly, you started early in your life playing keyboard for well know Christian musical groups. When did you ask Jesus in your heart, and how did it take place?
Kelly: Well, I was ten years old, and went to a revival meeting with my Mother. During the altar call, I was just standing next to my Mother, when, out of nowhere, I heard The Holy Spirit speak to my heart. He said, “You need a Saviour.” I just knew to surrender to Jesus at that moment, and so I did.
He’s been my Lord and Saviour ever since!
PBN: Our love for you and the music Jesus has given you goes back to the early ‘80s. During some of our darkest moments your lyrics and melodies have been there to encourage us and point us to Jesus. How on earth do you come up with the words and melodies for your songs? Where are you when the songs come to you?
Kelly: Well, Pat, they have just come to me at different times and places....sometimes while washing dishes, sometimes while changing diapers! But, many times, during worship. Sometimes just a line will come, and I will just ponder on it, like going on an adventure, as more lines come into my head. Then, other times, I’ll just get a melody, and sit down at the piano and go on an adventure there, as a whole song will sometimes unfold itself to me. Then, in rare moments, both the words and the melody will come all at once, and I’ll have a whole song in 20 or 30 minutes! That’s how “ Hidden Valleys” came to me.
PBN: One of my absolutely FAVORITE albums you were part of is “Songs From The Red Letters”. Please tell the story of who was involved in that project, and how did it come about?
Kelly: Yes, also one of my favorites, and with very pleasant memories!
Myself, Lenny LeBlanc, Rita Baloche, and Billy Batstone were approached by Maranatha!Music, and asked to spend a week up in a chalet in the mountain town of Big Bear, Ca, and write 10 songs together. But, the words/concepts/stories had to come from The Red Letters, which are the highlighted words of Jesus, in the Bible.
It was quite a challenge, but quite a joy, as well! It was a very positive experience for me, and we all got to do the playing and singing on the album, as well! Very much fun!
PBN: With many artists, you can identify them with specifically one of two songs that really stand out. Yet, I can’t do that with you. I would have to point to 25 or 30 songs that are my favorite. Each one has that unique quality about it that touches my heart deeply. One of the songs at the top of that list is “Thy Throne Oh God”. How did that song get born? Were you on some kind of spiritual high when you wrote it?
Kelly: Actually, Pat, I wish I could say that I wrote that beautiful song, but it was Billy Batstone who wrote it! I just had the privilege of recording it!
PBN: Undoubtedly you are one of the most recorded artists in the history of Christian music. So many artists have dreamed of recording albums and being popular Christian Artists with hit records from early on in their lives. Yet, becoming a solo artist was the furthest thing from your mind when you started in Christian Music. Tell the story how you became such a beloved solo artist. How did it start?
Kelly: Well, Pat, I was just a kid when God began to give me opportunities to record. I was with several Christian groups before becoming a solo artist. The Jake Hess Sound, The Archers, Seth, Harlan Rogers & Friends. And, after moving to Ca in 1977, I still continued to support other artists with my gifts...until one day Maranatha!Music approached me. They asked me if I would like to do a solo album on their label. Pat, I had a handful of songs that I had written, so that’s what we put on my first solo album!
You’re right...I never planned on becoming a solo artist, but when the opportunity presented itself, I said “yes”!
PBN: I know that “Paga”, one of your latest CDs, has a very special place in your heart. It sat on your shelf for about 15 years before being published. Why is it so special to you, and why did it take so long to be published?
Kelly: The Paga’ project was birthed in my heart while raising my kids on Tater Peeler Rd. (Lebanon, TN)
I was walking down our driveway, feeling low, because I couldn’t see any way that I was going to be able to do another solo album, although I had the songs. All of a sudden, it was like the Holy Spirit flicked the bottom of my nose, sort of like you would if you were trying to tell someone that something was “right under their nose”! I knew immediately what He was saying to me, which tells me that He knew my thoughts and feelings at that very moment, as I teetered on the brink of depression. He was telling me, “They’re right under your nose! Use the kids!
So I talked to my son Bryan, who was 17 and an awesome bass player, about how much he and his musician friends would charge to record one song per day, and we worked it out and got started on Paga’! We had a wonderful time recording that album!
The most special thing about Paga’, is that we were able to record my beloved daughter, Haylie’s voice as a duet with me on “Beautiful Jesus”. She was 15 at the time. She went to be with Jesus 3 years later.
PBN: Things have evolved so much in Christian Music since the days of the Jesus Music Movement. Nancy Honeytree told me they were so excited about Jesus during the Jesus Movement, a number of artists would get hay, get on the back of a flat bed truck, find an empty lot and play for the people that passed by, without any thought of a donation or getting paid. It makes me wonder if the record labels of today would allow their artists to do such. What changes have you seen, and what do you think about the changes?
Kelly: Well, I’m not quite sure how many “Christian Music Labels” are even left.
I’m not real in touch with the latest “Christian Hit Radio” artists, either.
But, I know that everything going digital has affected album sales tremendously.
The artists from “my era” have all had to make their own websites, and join the ranks of “the indie artists”, which is short for “independent”. Everyone that I know of is struggling to just keep bookings on the calendar, since we are now “the oldies”!
But, I do know that “God always has a remnant”, and there are many sincere, genuine “Jesus lovers” doing their music, that tells of their love for Jesus, and His faithfulness. Some of it has gotten on the radio, which I am very happy about. I would like to throw a big “plug” in for Bethel Music. Those folks are definitely some of the “Jesus Music” of today, if you ask me!!!
PBN: While most Christian artists seek venues at which to perform, such as churches and concerts, Jesus has taken you on a very different path: Music Ministry to Prisons. This is one of those “Yes, God” moments when you just want to obey God. You are not a wealthy person by ANY stretch of the imagination. Prisons and Prisoners do not contribute. How on earth do you get the funds to travel the country and sing for prisoners in prisons around the country? How can our listeners and readers become involved with your ministry?
Kelly: Well, Pat, it’s such a precious thing God has led me to do. I can’t tell you how gratifying it is. My heart is always blessed far beyond what I ever “give” to the prisoners.
But, after the Lord made the path known to me, my first response was, “Oh!! But, I would have to write people a letter, asking for their support!”, which I wasn’t keen on doing. As a matter of fact, I had kind of prided myself on being so “independent “, and never wanted to have to ask anybody for “support”. But, God allowed me to humble myself and write the letter. And, you know, He has given me just what I needed, just when I needed it! You and Claudia, and your ministry (PBN) are my biggest supporters!!! I absolutely could not cover my basic needs, in order to go to the people who cannot pay me, without your support, Pat, along with the handful of others who support me. And, there is not a big enough way for me to be able to say THANK YOU!!!!
Kelly, After the Interview:
You asked how others could become involved in this ministry....Well, there is a donation page on my website:
And, there is a way to view the original letter that I sent out at the end of 2015.
Thank you, Pat and Claudia, and all of PBN, for your undying support of The Lord’s ministry through my life over the years. God knows what it has meant to me. I Love you SO much!!!!!
PBN: Thank you, Kellly. We all love you, too.
By: Amanda Marie, Director of Social Media Marketing