By Tarvenia Jones
Where are you from?
KP – Queens, New York.
Do you miss the city?
KP – Not terribly. I miss the energy of the city. I miss shopping. I miss what I love most about New York. It’s a great melting pot.
What was your childhood like?
KP – That’s a loaded question. My childhood was rich spiritually. And at times confusing because it was old school Pentecostal. I had a lot of questions that were not being answered and could not be answered but I still asked them. And when we were coming up children were supposed to be seen and not heard. On the natural side it was challenging. My parents split up when I was really young. My mother was 22 years old raising three children alone in the ‘70’s. My father died when I was nine years old. My mother left my dad because he was a preacher in the church who left the church and backslid.
How did your dad backslide?
KP – There was alcoholism and drug abuse on my dad’s side of the family. He was the only person in his family who was saved. He had a real battle because he would go to church on Sunday and his entire family would stay home. They didn’t do church. He had an inner battle and it got to be too much for him. He was a black man in the ‘70’s with a family to take care of and realized after the fact that he wasn’t really ready. His dad died when he was really young and he had no male figures to really look up to.
What was the toughest time of your childhood?
KP – I remember being homeless and sleeping in my mother’s car when I was four years old. I remember my mother would go to family members on my dad’s side and ask can my sisters and I stay with them. Even if we could sleep on the floor. I remember them telling my mother there’s no room for us in the house and telling my mother she’ll be fine. I remember my mother bundling us up in coats with tears in her eyes and taking us to sleep in the car.
How did that experience shape you as an adult?
KP – As an adult, I have to be honest and say that there’s not much that I’m afraid of. But I work the way that I do because I have a bit of fear of homelessness. I have to believe God to deliver me from that. I have such a vivid memory of being homeless. I remember I would not get my nails or hair done unless I had a show because I felt like it was money that did not need to be spent. I’m talking about Kelly Price, “The Soul of a Woman” record. I would have to give myself a reason to go to the mall and shop. I don’t splurge shop. I have too much in my closet to spend money on clothes.
How did you meet your husband?
KP – I met Jeffery when I was 13 years old at the state youth convention. We were friends for years. We would see each other during the conferences held throughout the years. It was a different day. When I saw him it was because we were in church somewhere. He would come to wherever I was singing. I always had a lot of guy friends and he was one of my really good guy friends. It shifted when I turned 16 years old. We talked to each other about things we couldn’t talk to other people about. My family was homeless again when I was 16 years old and Jeffery’s mother was in the hospital with breast cancer. Back then you had to have a physical address to be registered in school or the state would take you from your parents. I had to keep it a secret. Jeffery knew that mother and I were bouncing from house to house.
When did you know you were in love with Jeffery?
KP – I knew pretty quickly. After being his friend for so long…my family bounced around for about five or six months with no place to live. During that time his mother died from breast cancer. Throughout her sickness and my homelessness we got closer and closer.
Tell me about getting pregnant at an early age.
KP – I look at my son and I do not regret my son. I will never let some over religious, super pious, lying individual and I say LYING (all caps) make me feel guilty about my child. I say that because it takes a lot of nerve for someone to act as if they’ve never sinned. My grandfather is a COGIC bishop. It was difficult. I think I was more concerned about my grandparents being disappointed in me. No one talked to me about sex. My mother didn’t talk to me because no one talked to her about sex. Much of what I learned I learned from school and television.
Did anyone in the church try to convince you to abort?
KP – No one tried to get me to abort. But I was silenced and sat down. It was desired that I get up and apologize before the congregation. I have a girlfriend who’s father was her pastor and she got pregnant and she had to get up and apologize in front of the church. I said absolutely not. I sinned against God and not the church. I bucked a lot of things growing up. I got slapped in the mouth a lot. If you couldn’t show me in the bible where I owed the church an apology then I wasn’t going along with it. I owed God and my grandparents and my mother an apology. I was involved in the music department. I only did that because my grandfather said I had to. As the preacher’s kid you did not have options. But I had to sit down and not direct the choir any longer.
How did you get discovered as a singer?
KP – I had a dear friend name Darryl Douglas. He was an incredible song writer and arranger. He would use me to demo his songs. One thing led to another. There was another session singer who sang for Luther Vandross. Her name is Cindy Mizelle. When she was getting married, she asked Darryl to do all of the music for her wedding. There were a lot of executives at her wedding. At that time, George Michael came to New York to do an east coast tour. He was looking for a great choir to back him up. Cindy put in a call to Darryl who then called me and some others. There were about 10 or 12 of us. We showed up to Madison Square Garden and sang behind George Michael in January of 1992. In February of 1992, Mariah Carey needed a choir for her Grammy performance and once again we got the call. Long story short, Mariah was three hours late for rehearsal. I just found out I was pregnant and I was sick as a dog. We were on a break and I stayed around the rehearsal hall and started singing around the piano with my back to the door and Mariah Carey walked in and stood there and listened. Someone told me Mariah was standing at the door listening and I shut up immediately and walked away from the piano. I didn’t want anyone to believe that I was trying to be heard. When the rehearsal was over I was preparing to leave, Mariah sent one of her background singers to me and he tried to get me to start singing again and I said no at first but then I started singing and she was hiding behind a pole listening. Tommy Mottola arrived and heard me and said I’m going to make you a star. I had no idea who he was at the time. I looked at him and said “really” (dripping with sarcasm). That’s how it all started.
How did church folks respond to you singing secular music?
KP – Are you kidding me? According to them I was probably going to hell faster for singing secular music then for being pregnant. That’s amazing to me. My observation of the scripture that says having a form of godliness but denying it’s power…it came to life for me. It’s been so clear that if you keep the form of godliness in public people really don’t care how ragedy your life is behind closed doors. As long as you don’t do anything that brings them to shame. I don’t have a problem doing what I do because I am the same Kelly in secular venues as I am in church pulpits. I speak Jesus at my R&B concerts.
How have you been received by the Gospel music industry?
KP – It’s been a mixed bag. Everyone at first was overjoyed. Some of that joy turned to dismissal when people realized that I was not willing to make the announcement that they wanted me to make. That announcement was for me to say that I was wrong for all of the years that I sang R&B and that I had been converted and that I would never sing R&B again. I refused to make that statement because I didn’t backslide to sing R&B. Doing the gospel album that I did and touring with gospel artists opened my eyes to a lot more than I even cared to know about people who sing gospel music. We need to be careful about what we’re allowing our young people to listen to. I say that because I’ve been on the road with a lot of these people and just because the genre is gospel doesn’t mean that the music itself is. Just because people call themselves gospel singers, that’s just a title and doesn’t mean they’re living a sanctified life. Check my life. Chile Please!