Kelly Harland’s impressive singing career began at age 16 when she performed under the stars at the Hollywood Bowl to an audience of 3,000. An L.A. native, Kelly had won a statewide contest for young musicians and a chance to perform two songs with a big band conducted by Nelson Riddle. Backstage that night she took a small, sepia-toned photo of her Dad as a young man in the 1920s, tucked it into her yellow chiffon gown for good luck, and walked out on stage. Her father, a jazz drummer, had passed away a year and a half before her big night. She launched into an old standard and the band rang out behind her. “I had been singing from the age of six,” she says, “but in the excitement of that night I realized that this was all I wanted to do.” She collected a top award, and was on her way.

The Sixties, of course, brought a world of music into Kelly’s life. When she was a child her dad had influenced her with recordings of all the singers he loved—Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee and Lena Horne—and Kelly, as early as age 7 or 8, studied and emulated these giants, and was even taken by her parents to see some of them perform live in person. Her mother collected the soundtracks of Broadway and movie musicals, and Kelly lived for the magnificent works of Rodgers and Hammerstein, lip-synched her way through “Judy” at Carnegie Hall, and somehow discovered Streisand before her name hit the West Coast. Pop radio swept in and brought Elvis and rock and roll, as well as the folk scene and R&B and the Brill Building classics. Then came The Beatles, and Motown; Kelly fell in love with everything she heard, listening and singing for hours on end. During this period, her mother worked in a Hollywood restaurant, and often sneaked her in to sing with the house band: she was a girl performing sophisticated standards, a teen who listened to Miles Davis and Carmen McRae. Still, Kelly was completely in sync with pop and rock music as the decade advanced--including Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and the Doors. She embraced all musical worlds, and that special mix would stay with her throughout her versatile singing career.

In the early Seventies, excited by the singer-songwriter era of Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Laura Nyro and James Taylor, Kelly found a songwriting partner and began working on original tunes. She had made a serious commitment to be part of the music business and, in her quest to get started, took a demo tape backstage to Carole King one night when King was playing at the popular Hollywood club, The Troubadour. Within a few days Kelly received a call from the vice president of King’s record label. He offered her a chance to sing studio background vocals with some of the hottest acts in music, including the Beach Boys, Jennifer Warnes and Merry Clayton. This was the beginning of an amazing session career: Kelly would go on to sing background vocals on albums of all styles, and become the award-winning voice of hundreds of local and national ads. She would work with, and learn from, major record producers in America and Europe.

Yet another part of young Kelly, the flip side of her showbiz persona, was the part that dreamed of living in a beautiful, natural setting. And so in the early Seventies, when the first Earth Movement was in full swing, she left her home of LA boulevards and freeways to live in the Pacific Northwest, and never looked back. As it happened, Kelly immediately connected with music industry people in Seattle, the city of lake-and-mountain vistas she’d chosen to settle in. When a high-profile manager from New York came through town, searching for talent to form a new musical group, it led to the next phase of her career: the pop/rock band Lazy Racer.

Lazy Racer consisted of three London studio musicians and three American singer-songwriters, including Kelly. The band was created by the famous British producer Glyn Johns, who had made classic hits with the Who, the Eagles, and many more, and he brought Kelly to England to sing lead and contribute songs to the group. Lazy Racer made two albums for A&M Records, with one single making the Billboard charts. During the years that Kelly worked with the band, she kept an amazing schedule: writing songs in Seattle during the spring and summer; rehearsing in a gorgeous London mansion in autumn; and, in winter, recording at Island/Def Jam magnate Chris Blackwell’s studio in the Bahamas for leisurely months at a time. In London she found herself hobnobbing with British rock royalty: dining out with Ringo Starr or Mick Jagger, pub-hopping with Eric Clapton, jamming with Peter Frampton and Robert Palmer. “It all seemed like a dream,” says Kelly. “The whole time I was walking along the streets of London in the fall, or lying by the turquoise sea in Nassau in January, I wondered how I could be so lucky.”

But all good things end, and the long distance between two countries made it hard for the band to stay together. They went their separate ways, and Kelly went back to living and working in her beloved Seattle, still singing on sessions, playing weekends in the popular R&B band Annie Rose and the Thrillers, and backing up acts that came through town (including Etta James and Ray Charles—“thrills of a lifetime”, according to Kelly). She was interested in a solo recording contract now and it wasn’t long before she was discovered, via her management, by the Charlie Daniels Band. Charlie Daniels was high at the top of the charts with his huge hit “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” and had started his own production company with Epic Records. He asked Kelly to be a part of his organization (and also to sing on his famous live Volunteer Jam in Nashville where she shared the stage with Billy Joel and James Brown), and soon she was signed to the Epic label. She recorded the album “Kelly Harland”, a collection of originals and covers produced by the Grammy-winning master of pop Michael Omartian (Christopher Cross, Donna Summer), with tracks created by the hot studio band Toto and players like saxophonist Tom Scott. The single from the album, “All I Wanna Do”, garnered airplay nationally and was a Billboard pick. But Epic Records, and its parent company CBS, were in financial trouble at the time and the record never received the attention it deserved.

Fast forward from the world of rock and roll and music business madness. Kelly, making the choice to stay in Seattle, marry, and raise a family, never stopped singing and writing—in fact quite a few artists of note covered songs she co-wrote with tunesmith Craig Morley, and her Nashville connections grew as a result of her relationship with Charlie Daniels—but after the hectic years recording for major labels and traveling the world (including a trip to Bangkok, where she sang for the King of Thailand), she made some different choices. In 1991 Kelly and her husband Chuck Deardorf, one of the foremost jazz musicians in the Northwest, joyously gave birth to their son Will. Musically, several things happened to Kelly: motherhood inspired her beyond anything she had ever known; she landed a regular gig singing with a stellar jazz trio at Seattle’s Sorrento Hotel; and she recorded a Christmas CD with some local jazz luminaries. Kelly rediscovered the wonderful standards she once sang in her early years.

Since the start of the millennium, Kelly Harland has marked her place on the music scene as a critically acclaimed interpreter of popular songs from all eras. Her two CDs, “American Songs”, and “Twelve Times Romance” have received attention and airplay around the world, and her wisdom and soul shine through in every song she sings. “I still love to sit in with a blues band,” she says, “but pouring my heart into this great music is the way I feel I can really touch the listener.” Her new CD “Long Ago and Far Away: Songs of Jerome Kern” is a project Kelly considers to be the culminating moment in her life of interpreting the American Songbook. With the legendary Bill Mays at the piano and Kelly’s husband Chuck Deardorf on upright bass, the album is a collection of pure, beautiful Kern melodies. In a world of overwhelming technology and repetitive, thumping beats, these tunes, jewels from the past that have lost none of their immediacy, will surely strike a deep chord in the hearts of Kelly’s fans.

Kelly’s singing life is only a part of her career in the arts. As a record producer she has been at the helm of several recent CDs, including two by the exciting new singer Michelle Wallis. And in 2002 Woodbine House published Kelly’s book about her son Will, “A Will of His Own: Reflections on Parenting a Child With Autism”, which brought rave reviews and sold out its initial printing. The book is being published in a new edition this year, with a foreword by the British actress and writer Jane Asher. Kelly, an advocate for kids with autism, lectures regularly on the school circuit to teachers, parents, and clinicians. “The most important thing to me is sharing the creative gift,” Kelly explains. "If music lifts us up, if words are what put the feeling across, it doesn’t matter. I just want to communicate. I live by the E.M. Forster line, 'Only connect.' "


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