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Irene Kelley

Irene Kelley Takes the Stage at The Historic Masonic Theatre

Clifton Forge, VA (Oct. 3, 2022) - On Friday, October 14 at 7:30 pm singer, song writer, story teller, Irene Kelley takes the stage of The Historic Masonic Theatre.

“At 15, she began her journey as a professional musician in a rock band. Fast forward to 1981 when Jerry Williamson asked her to move to Huntington, West Virginia to join the bluegrass band, Redwing. She found herself fronting the band as the lead singer and playing some pretty big festivals, not the least of which were Bill Monroe’s Bean Blossom and Tarheal Festivals and the Carter Family Homeplace in Bristol, Virginia.” Joe Newberry

When Irene Kelley left her native Pennsylvania to move to Nashville in 1984, she brought along her guitar, a handful of original material and a love for traditional and bluegrass music. She was signed to MCA Nashville’s country division and was adamant about having Carl Jackson, Sam Bush, Mark O’Connor and other bluegrass musicians join her on her first recording project. As she puts it, “The record was country, but the heart and soul was bluegrass.” This was at a time when bluegrass instrumentation had fallen out of favor along Nashville’s Music Row, so Irene concentrated on the songwriting that exposed her music to millions through hits like “A Little Bluer Than That,” for Alan Jackson, as well as songs performed and recorded by Ricky Skaggs and Sharon White, Loretta Lynn and Trish Yearwood. More than three decades later, Irene has assumed her place in a long line of great American songwriters. 

Her songs have also been recorded by Little Big Town, Rhonda Vincent, Claire Lynch, Darrell Scott, The Whites, the Osborne Brothers, and Bill Anderson. She has performed at the Grand Ole Opry, the CMA Music Festival, Folk Alliance International, the American Music Festival and many other venues.

Of her song, 4th of July in My Hometown, she says, “The idea for the song has been rolling around in my head for a few years. Being from the small town of Latrobe, Pennsylvania where we celebrated our nation’s birthday with great enthusiasm, I have some vivid happy memories. I also have proud veterans in my family who were always a central part of these celebrations. Anyone who comes from a small town in American can likely relate. Writing this with my daughter, Justyna, and Steve Cropper was a real joy. The absolute icing on the cake is my good friend Trisha Yearwood’s gorgeous harmony and descant parts. I hope that everyone can find a happy memory from their own hometown and that the song lifts their spirits and puts a smile on their face.”

Irene Kelley’s summer 2021 single, “Wild Mountain Stream” ended up on top of the Bluegrass Today chart for the entire year. Then “Carolina Special” soared to #2 on the weekly Bluegrass Today chart. This spring, “Lonely” twice rose to the top of the Bluegrass Today chart 5 weeks apart!

Of her musical influences, she says: “Jean Ritchie’s songwriting to me was so amazing, especially for someone just learning to write. Some of my other early favorites were Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard, Rodney Crowell, Pete Goble, Greg Allman and, of course, always Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn.”

Her latest project is a return to her beginnings. “Bluegrass is the last frontier of country music,” Irene says, and it’s true that country stars like Keith Whitley, Vince Gill, and Marty Stuart and cut their teeth on Bill Monroe’s genre of music. “I was a Music Row songwriter for 20 years in addition to being a recording artist. I really enjoyed that time, but the business part of it has really changed.”  

Music historian Robert K. Oermann sums up her great gifts this way: “As a vocalist, Irene Kelley glows with beauty and expressiveness. As a songwriter, she shines with a luster that few of her peers can match. This is music to cleanse the soul. This is music to raise you up. This is music to touch your heart.”


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