NEWPORT Country singer Kenni Huskey of Newport sang her first song on stage in a Christmas pageant when she was 5 years old.
“I was born in Newport and moved to Memphis in 1957,” Huskey said. “I got my start in Memphis.”
After that initial “gig” of singing in kindergarten, Huskey said, her parents saw the potential she had in show business and started taking every opportunity they could find to get her back on the stage.
“We’d wait forever for me to go on stage to sing two songs,” Huskey said.
Her first paying gig was when she was 10 years old, and she sang on Eddie Bond’s Country Shindig.
“They paid me $5, and I’ve still got the check,” Huskey said.
While she was still living in Memphis, Huskey said, her parents would drive her to Nashville on weekends to perform.
At 13 years old, Huskey had already recorded jingles for local businesses, was in commercials and had performed at the Grand Ole Opry.
In 1968, Huskey and her parents moved to Anaheim, Calif., where she went on to pursue larger performance halls and was presented with opportunities to sign a recording contract.
At 15, Huskey met Buck Owens, who was a star on the TV show Hee Haw.
“He was my manager,” Huskey said.
Huskey signed a five-year performing contract with Owens and co-wrote songs with him to perform on the show.
She performed on Hee Haw and the Buck Owens Ranch Show, which is still in syndication today.
Through Owens, Huskey said, she did movie soundtrack work and made her way to a record deal. All the time, she was searching for a way to get her music heard by more and more people. She never gave up.
“If it’s in you, it’s in you,” Huskey said.
She signed her first recording contract with Capitol Records when she was 16 and recorded with the company for five years. After Capitol, Huskey said, she signed a four-year contract with Warner Brothers Records when she was 21.
While on Capitol, Huskey recorded “Within My Loving Arms,” “Roll Out the Red Carpet” and “Living Tornado,” which made the Billboard charts.
At 25, Huskey moved to Nashville to further her music career. While in Nashville, she met some of the “greats” in country music, such as Loretta Lynn, Hank Williams Jr., Little Jimmy Dickens, Gene Watson and Warner Mack.
“All of the artists [I met], they never gave up,” Huskey said. “They just kept going.”
She moved from Nashville to South Carolina in 1980 to get married.
“When you move from Nashville, you lose your contacts,” Huskey said. “I worked with the best, and you’ve got to keep your contacts.”
Huskey said she realized how much she lost when she moved to South Carolina.
Some of the songs Huskey recorded were written by her father, Bill.
“He’s a great songwriter,” Huskey said.
Her father is the reason she is back in Newport today. She serves as his caretaker because he was diagnosed with fibromyalgia.
“I’ve been back in Newport for about three months now,” Huskey said.
After being in the country music business for so long, Huskey said, she’s seen it go through many changes but still has the drive to perform every chance she gets.
“I’m still willing to sing, and I still love to sing,” Huskey said.
Staff writer Lisa Burnett can be reached at (501) 244-4307 or email@example.com.