SHE PERSISTED #4 Kelle Jolly

Work at being the best you, you can be. No one can do that. This artist path is not easy. And you need to believe in things that no one else can see.
— Kelle Jolle
Kelle singing at the Knoxville Museum of Art's Family Day dressed like a butterfly!

Kelle singing at the Knoxville Museum of Art's Family Day dressed like a butterfly!

Kelle Jolly is seemingly everywhere all at once. I follow her on Facebook and quite often think I could never keep up with her. Her endeavors are always artful and meaningful, and she is kind enough to give her followers a close-up view of what she is up to. On top of that, she always looks amazing! She makes her own costumes for her events!  I’m pretty sure she never sleeps. Kelle is another woman I secretly aspire to be like, which why she is blog subject #4!


Kelle is Knoxville's Uke Lady!

Kelle is Knoxville's Uke Lady!

If you live in Knoxville, you’ve probably listened to her show “Jazz Jam with Kelle Jolly.”  If you have not, you’re in for a treat. Airing at 8pm via WUOT 91.9 FM on Friday evenings, Kelle brings out music that I have never heard before. I have a Masters degree in music, with half that degree in music literature, and Kelle schools me every week. Her knowledge and enthusiasm inspires me and reminds me that there is always more music to discover.  

Maybe you’ve witnessed Kelle live? She just received the Blank News award for Knoxville’s Best Jazz Musician! When you hear her live you’ll quickly realize it’s almost impossible to tell the difference between her voice and the voices of the internationally-acclaimed singers she plays on her show!

Kelle Jolly (vocals) and Will Boyd (soprano sax) perform this Harold Arlen classic as a duet at the 2006 Muroran Jazz Cruise in Muroran Hokkaido Japan.


You can catch Kelle live this Friday June 2nd  at the Red Piano Lounge with Groove Therapy or at Scruffy City Hall for a Gun Awareness Benefit concert!

She is also performing for the Edgewood Park Neighborhood Association’s  Music in the Park Series on June 15 from 7-8:30pm. Call 678-516-6339 for more info!  

I haven’t gotten to spend enough time with Kelle due to our opposing schedules, but the time I have spent with her has revealed a deeply sensitive and articulate woman who knows what she wants and works hard to achieve it. She also has a rad sense of humor, which I got to witness on a panel she she spokeo at Rhythm and Blooms. Follow her on Facebook and you might get the chance to see her in action!

Here are some questions I asked Kelle:

Besides hosting Jazz Jam Friday nights and organizing the Women in Jazz Jam Festival, can you tell my readers what other things you are involved in?

I am also involved in performing live shows and teaching. My husband, Will Boyd, and I have traveled the world sharing our love of jazz and each other. We have been traveling to Japan for the last 10 years representing Knoxville at various events at our sister city of Muroran, Japan. Sometimes I sing locally  at the Red Piano Lounge with a band led by Keith L. Brown called Groove Therapy. Will also plays with that band. As a solo artist on ukulele, I play traditional American music like jazz, blues, folk and Spirituals. I feel like ukulele is a warm weather instrument so in the summer I perform with my ukulele group, Ukesphere of Knoxville, around the region. My degree is in Music Education and I taught school before I moved to Knoxville. But now I facilitate workshops and teach group ukulele lessons.

You are seemingly everywhere at all times! Can you let us in on how you manage your own personal schedule?

I know its sounds mean to some folks, but I don’t like to make plans with folks on the phone. I prefer written emails or something I can read.  Then I can review and compose my response. Some things get lost in phone conversation for me. Once I have it written, then I add it to my calendar. I check my calendar to see what I have scheduled. If I don’t have anything scheduled, I’m in the garden!

I have lots of interests and interesting friends. There’s always something going on in Knoxville and you can be on the go all day if you choose to. I think that I take lots of photos and that makes me appear busier than I am. In my mind I feel like I am moving a lot slower now.

A couple of years ago I had a medical emergency that almost took my life. That caused me to slow down and learn to say “no”. It’s taken about three years for me to get back to feeling normal again. So I give myself permission to take it easy when I can. And I don’t beat myself up about daydreaming or spending the day in the yard foraging dandelions to make tea.  You can’t do everything for everybody.

You also have a talent for making stunning costumes. Who taught you how to sew and what is your inspiration?

Thank you. My earliest memory of designing is me age 3 or 4 years old, cutting up my dresses to make doll clothes.  In 1st grade, I sewed my Halloween costume by hand and colored it with crayons. I remember my friends questioning my decision to wear a homemade costume while my art teacher paraded me around to all the adults to show them what I did.  As a child, I had a strong feeling that I was capable of doing whatever I wanted to do.  Sewing was one of those things. I knew I wanted to be an artist at 4 years old too. My parents encouraged me. I was their guinea pig. My Dad taught me how to sew. But I didn’t really start sewing with a pattern till I was in high school. I made my senior prom dress with Kente cloth. I preferred to wear African fabric to prom.

I’d like to know what inspired you to launch the Women in Jazz Jam Festival?

A series of dots connected in my mind and that led to me launching the festival.

1.    Emily Mathis and I had facilitated a workshop on WOMEN IN JAZZ at Tabernacle Baptist Church for Pastor Battle’s Black History Month celebration.

2.    The workshop led to me organizing the SWEETHEARTS OF RHYTHM SHOW at the library.

3.    I attended a jazz conference where Mayor Nutter of Philadelphia challenged all the attendees to go back home and advocate politically for jazz.

4.    No Women’s Day for the City.

5.    Amy Broyles contacting me after I naïvely made a Facebook event page for the festival without having any money, convinced me it was something that needed to happen for Knoxville.

So it wasn’t one thing, but a logical progression. Music is a fraternity. It has always felt that way to me. So in order to change the environment for the women who follow us, we have to work towards that vision. The festival gives women a platform to work together, support each other and to create in an environment where their voices can be heard. God bless the child who has her own! We need to celebrate so passionately amongst ourselves that everyone else will want to beat down the doors to get in. Many people in Knoxville share this vision. Right now I am planning the 3rd festival!

On that note, we’ve talked about the music industry being a boy’s club. My last 3 She Persisted Blogs have touched on the issue of feminism and gender in music and it’s an important theme and reason why I’m doing this series. As a woman, what has been the most challenging issue for you as a musician?

My most challenging issue is being perceived as having less value. I have to prove why I am worth what I am asking for. People also downplay my education and experience by saying, “Oh, you can sing like that probably because your parents sing.”

So I’ve learned to ask for what I want to be paid and not worry about losing an opportunity. Because you might not respect me, but you’re gonna pay me!

What has been the most challenging aspect of running an all female music festival?

Men are invited too! I like to say it’s a female led festival. The groups have to be led by women but, not exclusively women. I wish I knew women  who could play all the instruments in the rhythm section, drums, bass, keys and guitar. Every year more women hear about the festival and want to participate. So hopefully as the range of exposure get’s bigger, we’ll have a bigger pool of women to play in the Women in Jazz Jam Festival Band, which is our region-wide big ensemble that always starts off the festival.

Do you see a future where women musicians are treated as equal players?

I want to see that. But the old way has to vanish. Again, I think we have to create platforms for women to be featured. We also need to create pipelines to professional opportunities for girls.

What advice would you give to a young girl starting out in music? How would you suggest she might deal with bias or sexism?

Work at being the best you, you can be. No one can do that. This artist path is not easy. And you need to believe in things that no one else can see.  In my 20’s I had an amazing opportunity to meet Nona Hendryx and she asked me, “Who are you as an artist?”  I did not know. I had spent my 20’s playing covers and doing whatever people asked me to do. I had not taken the time to slow down and listen to my own voice.

Let’s close with a fun question. What is the craziest space or place you’ve ever performed?

Our friends Hisaka and Chika took us to a park in Hokkaido, Japan. I took out my uke and started singing. Before I knew it a group of girls who were having a barbecue came and joined me.