Recently I read on social media “that nothing good ever comes out of Roanoke.” Obviously the folks that propagate such myths have never educated themselves about Jen Lilley. The Roanoke, Virginia native is already a successful actress and is now embarking on a new music career in addition to her work on TV and film projects.
I had the opportunity to chat with Jen in a phone interview last week as she discussed growing up in Roanoke and influences on her music career during childhood and teen years. We also talked about her new brand single, “King of Hearts” and Lilley’s ten-song album, “Hindsight.”
Before I share Jen’s story, here is the bio taken from her official website: “A star on both the silver and small screens, including the Academy Award-winning film THE ARTIST, NBC’s iconic daytime series “Days of Our Lives,” ABC’s “General Hospital,” and a regular leading lady on the Hallmark Channel, actress/singer/philanthropist Jen Lilley has tackled countless roles throughout her illustrious career.”
Lilley was born and raised in my hometown of Roanoke, Virginia. Jen is one of four siblings raised by her parents Vincent and Ellen. I first came to know the Lilley family through Jen’s sister Katherine. My daughter Stephanie and Katherine are friends, with both graduating together at two schools: Hidden Valley High School in 2010 and James Madison University in 2014.
Although much can be written on Jen’s career as an actress, I will be focusing mostly on her music career for the remaining part of this message.
When Lilley was 4 years old, her parents said she could be anything she wanted to be when she grew up. Jen answered, “Anything?” Her parents then confirmed their statement was true. Jen responded to her mom and dad with, “Then I am going to be a bird so I can sing all day!”
Other fond memories for Jen were weekly shopping trips to Kroger with her father. During these trips, Jen’s dad would turn on the car radio to an oldies radio station and they would sing together Motown classics such as “My Girl” by the Temptations, British Invasion songs from the 60’s and classic rock tunes from the 70’s. These father-daughter moments are still cherished memories for Jen.
The other significant event in Jen’s childhood was her parents’ decision to attend Church of the Holy Spirit, an Anglican parish. Jen began attending a Sunday school class on a regular basis and started understanding the teachings of the Bible. It was at that time that she became a Christian. Her decision has continued to guide her path even to this day.
Music played a large part in Jen’s teen years, as she was a member of the worship team at the church her family attended during her high school career. Lilley also performed multiple concerts down in Guatemala when she was 16 and the group that she toured with received the National Educators Award of Guatemala during that trip.
Jen graduated from Cave Spring High School and then attended the University of Virginia in Charlottesville for undergraduate studies.
By the time that Jen started her freshman year at University of Virginia, she gave up her dream of singing and started thinking about alternative career options. Lilley wanted to select a career that she could use as a platform to do good. She considered becoming a lawyer, doctor, geologist or teacher but eventually Lilley “got bit by the acting bug.”
It was at the University of Virginia that Jen started her acting career in a film called, “The Loss of Life.” Because of her new love for acting, Lilley completed her education early with a bachelor’s degree and graduated with magna cum laude honors.
Just out of college, Jen taught kindergarten during the daytime and waited on tables at a restaurant during nights. Then in 2007, two important events happened: She moved to Los Angeles, California and married her husband Jason Wayne. During the wedding reception, Jen danced with her father to the sounds of “My Girl” by the Temptations.
The first time that Lilley pursued any type of music as an adult was in 2014 when she recorded a Christmas single, “Baby It’s Cold Outside” with her “TV husband” Eric Martsolf, from the soap opera “Days of Our Lives.” The single became a top downloaded Christmas song on Apple iTunes during the 2014 holiday season.
With the success of “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” Lilley recorded an entire album of Christmas music entitled “Tinsel Time” the following year. According to Lilley, “Tinsel Time” was the number 1 Christmas album on the Amazon Swing Chart during December 2015 and out-sold albums by Frank Sinatra (Jen’s favorite artist of all time), Dean Martin, Ella Fitzgerald and Harry Connick, Jr.
Although both the “Baby It’s Cold Outside” single and the “Tinsel Time” Christmas album were both successful, Lilley had no intention of pursuing any more recording opportunities as a singer. In fact, Jen totally rejected the idea that she would ever record another album.
However, Jen’s plans changed. Through a series of events, Lilley’s childhood dream of being a singer with a music career started becoming reality. When Jen was describing to me the timeline of how the recording of her new album came about, I was totally amazed at how the pieces of the puzzle came together for the Roanoke native. “It was like various scenes from one of my Hallmark movies,” Jen stated to me on how she came to meet producer Adrian Gurvitz.
Born in Britain, Adrian Gurvitz is a singer, songwriter, musician and record producer. At age 20, his band Gun had a Top 10 hit in the U.K. with “Race With the Devil.” In 1982, Gurvitz had a solo top ten British hit with the song “Classic” and he wrote “The Love in Your Eyes” which was a number 1 rock song for Eddie Money in 1988. Gurvitz also co-wrote “Even If My Heart Would Break,” performed by Kenny G and Aaron Neville, which was on the legendary 1992, “The Bodyguard” soundtrack.
Under the guidance of producer Gurvitz, Lilley has recorded 10 tracks for an album called “Hindsight.” All songs on the album deal with love, loss and relationships. One of the songs that will be on the album is “King of Hearts.”
Released less than two weeks ago, “King of Hearts” is the first single from Lilley’s new album. The music on Jen’s song features Rosie Danvers and her 50-piece orchestra. Lilley’s strong vocals have a 60’s Motown vibe, similar to the legendary girl groups from that era of pop music.
The best description that I can write about “King of Hearts” is to quote a portion of an email that I sent to Jen after I heard her song for the very first time:
“So this morning I am listening to the “King of Hearts” track and this is a perfect song for a single to kick off your new album.
Things I love about the song: It is catchy and has a 60’s Motown kind of groove. I love your voice on this tune and it reminds me of an old school R&B singer. I am calling it blue-eyed soul (even though your eyes may be brown or green).
The best comparison of your voice to me is with 60’s and 70’s British singer Dusty Springfield. Another aspect I like about the song is the use of strings. So much of the music released here in 2018 is Electronic Dance Music (EDM) that uses auto-tune for voices and fake instruments. You song is refreshingly different than all of those types of songs.”
As you just read from my message to Jen, the “King of Hearts” single is excellent. Lilley’s album, “Hindsight” also promises to have more superb songs just like her current single. “King of Hearts” is now available for purchase and you can also order Lilley’s new album “Hindsight” at www.jenlilleymusic.com
The most refreshing thing I see about Lilley and her new music endeavor is simple: Instead of trying to achieve fame, fortune and a chance to enrich her own pockets with wealth, she is following Biblical principles and giving her money away! I am encouraged that Jen is following the teachings of Jesus in the area of money stewardship.
100% of the money that Jen will be receiving from the purchase of the “King of Hearts” single, the sales of her “Hindsight” album and any Jen Lilley gear (t-shirts, hoodies) bought, will be going to help children. Here is where money will be going:
- The first 6,500 dollars will be given to help save the life of an 11 year-old boy from Uganda that needs heart surgery.
- The next money raised will be going to Project Orphans, an organization in Uganda that helps foster children and empowers women with relief work and spiritual mentorship. Money sent will be used for monthly operating expenses for that organization.
- The final area where money would go is for the creation of an orphan village in California. It has been Jen’s dream to create a safe environment for foster children that fall through the cracks in her home state of California.
“The whole point of the album for me, and I don’t know that I would ever be able to do it, but my God-sized dream is that I want to build a village for children who have been orphaned by the foster system; where they can come and be adopted. Or young teen moms can get support. Or if they age out of the system, give them a place to come so they have somewhere to stay – especially during the holidays because they don’t have any family. That’s my long-term goal.”
For now, though, her focus remains on Project Orphans, and all of the good that she and her fans can achieve with “King of Hearts” and “Hindsight” album sales.
As I spoke with Jen during our phone chat, I realized the passion she has for foster children and the plight that many of these boys and girls face with uncertain futures. I applaud Lilley for her compassion and advocacy for boys and girls that struggle to find a safe environment once leaving foster care. Thanks to Jen for her role communicating this issue: This is excellent!
Jen Lilley’s story as a singer is not yet complete. Who knows where the “King of Hearts” single and her new album “Hindsight” will lead? While no one knows the future, I am confident that she will continue to use her platform as an actress and singer for the advancement of positive change.
Links to Jen’s various online sites:
**** Edit note: I updated this message on 10/25/20 to include the title of Jen’s album, “Hindsight” that was released during September 2020. Lilly’s album didn’t have a title when I first published Jen’s story in 2018.
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