Artist Profiles, Music

Jen Lilley: Music with a Cause

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 upcoming ten-song album that will be released in February 2019.

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.

During the beginning of our phone conversation, I asked Jen to describe her early musical memories and influences while she was growing up in Roanoke. Lilley’s first memory is priceless.

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 that is due to be released in February 2019. All songs on the upcoming 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 upcoming album also promises to have more superb songs just like her current single. “King of Hearts” is now available for purchase and you can also pre order Lilley’s new album 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 pre order sales of her new album and any Jen Lilley gear (t-shirts, hoodies) bought, will be going to help children. Here is where money will be going:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Here is a quote from Jen on Project Orphans and her dream to create an orphan village in 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 upcoming 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 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:

www.jenlilley.com 

www.jenlilleymusic.com

Instagram

Twitter

Facebook.com/JenLilleyOfficial

 

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Artist Profiles

Kayla Woodson: Up & Coming Country Rock Singer

The definition of “up-and-coming” in the Merriam-Webster dictionary says: Gaining prominence and likely to advance or succeed.   That is exactly how I would describe country rock singer Kayla Woodson. Originally from Waggaman, Louisiana, she now calls Nashville, Tennessee her home and is a rising star in the music industry.

So those of you who are astute may be thinking: DJ Dave Woodson must be promoting his daughter, niece, cousin or some other close relative with this latest blog? Obviously, I share the same last name as Kayla but we are not close relatives. Most likely we are 10th cousins, just about like all other people with the Woodson surname in America.

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of speaking with Kayla via phone for the first time and got to learn of her music career. Among the things I learned: Kayla was a child music prodigy at a young age and started singing publicly at age 4 as a hobby. When Kayla was 7 years old, she performed regularly with Opry shows in Texas and Louisiana.

By age 10, Kayla fronted her own band for the first time and played at various locations throughout the South. Her musical performances continued during her early teen years and at age 15, Kayla wrote her own music and recorded an album called “I’m Moving On.”

After graduation from high school, Kayla moved to Nashville to attend Belmont University in 2012. Kayla received her BS degree from Belmont in 2016, with a major in Entertainment Industry Studies and a minor in Music Business. She continues to make Nashville her home since graduation from college.

In 2014, Kayla was at a Hard Rock Café in the Dominican Republic when she unexpectedly got called up on stage while country music trio Lady Antebellum was performing the song “American Honey.” Kayla then sang the song with the country group through the ending of the former number one country tune. After the song ended, Lady Antebellum lead singer Hillary Scott briefly interviewed Kayla before she left the stage.

While Kayla was getting her college degree during 2015, she performed on the Hard Rock stage at the CMA Music fest and released her first single, “Fan for the Flame ” to country music radio stations in America. The song is about a woman who has been scorned once but is refusing to play the fool multiple times. Kayla’s vocals are sassy on this catchy tune.

At the end of Kayla’s senior year at Belmont, she released her self-titled 5-song EP “Kayla Woodson” during April 2016. Every song was either written or co-written by Kayla and the EP shows a wide range of music styles along with powerful vocals by the Louisiana native.

During the past year Kayla has been busy writing new songs, playing with her own band and performing with other artists like Emma Place and Annie Lawrence around the Nashville area and around the South.

One of the current 24-year old singer’s latest projects is the recording of a new song, “Unfixable” which was written by Kayla along with co-writer Andrew Peebles. It is a powerful song but don’t just take my word about Kayla’s newest song and video for “Unfixable.” Here is what Kayla says about her new tune:

“I wrote ‘Unfixable’ with my co-writer Andrew Peebles, and by the time we were done writing the song I knew that I had to release it as my next single. It’s more of an emotional song that shows way more vulnerability than I have ever shown through my music. It’s about that moment when you love someone so much that you can’t walk away from them even though you know the relationship is not good for you. You’re essentially begging this person to cause you pain and in turn make your connection unfixable, so that it gives you enough reason to walk away from them. I’m so excited for the world to hear this song and I hope you all love it as much as I do!”

Up to this point you may think Kayla is just a country singer. However, she doesn’t limit herself to that genre of music: Kayla also rocks! Her dynamic voice is also well suited to sing rock music. From power ballads and straight up classic rock tunes, Kayla delivers the goods when singing rock songs during her concerts.

When I spoke with Kayla, I was curious what kind of set list that she and her band perform when out on the concert trail. While she sings much of her own material, Kayla also performs selected cover version of popular songs in rock and country plus occasionally singing Motown classic songs.

Two rock song covers that Kayla keeps in her set list are The Outlaw’s “Your Love” and “Guns N Roses’ “Sweet Child of Mine.”   With the country covers, she regularly sings Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” and Shania Twain’s “Any Man of Mine.” When Kayla goes Motown, she performs either Stevie Wonder’s “Signed Sealed Delivered I’m Yours” or Aretha Franklin’s “Chain of Fools.”

So what kind of music does Kayla listen to on a regular basis? She described her music favorites as a “Louisiana Gumbo Pot” meaning lots of variety all mixed together into one bowl. I asked Kayla some questions about her favorite music and here are the answers:

  • Favorite Rock Groups: Journey and Gun N Roses
  • Favorite Motown Artists: Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin
  • Favorite Country Artists: Dolly Parton and Carrie Underwood
  • Favorite Journey Song: “Wheel in the Sky”
  • Last Album Played: “Golden Hour” Kasey Musgraves

For the rest of the summer and into the fall, Kayla is taking time to write new songs and will be touring with her band in Tennessee, Kentucky, Louisiana and Alabama. You can always get Kayla’s up to date concert information here.

You can listen or purchase Kayla’s music at either iTunes or Spotify.

You can also access Kayla’s Facebook here and her official website here

“Ooh, the wheel in the sky keeps on turning

I don’t know where I’ll be tomorrow

Wheel in the sky keeps on turning.”

The chorus to Journey’s song “Wheel in the Sky” that I quoted above accurately describes Kayla upcoming musical journey. Her path is yet to be written. As I see things, Kayla Woodson has a bright future as a country/rock singer. I am confident that bigger and better things will be happening in the future during Kayla’s career. Rock on!

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