The passion and expression that pours out of most soul singers explains life, to me, more than the emotions of any other type of music: joy, pain, love, and heartache; the arduous struggle of a long journey and the happiness of an arrival. Life’s ups and downs are always laced tightly through every good soul song.
Kenya Hall was born in Canton, Ohio, home to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Hall’s father, Willie Hall, had a resume as varied as Forrest Gump’s: he played professional football for the Minnesota Vikings, worked as a police officer, was a decorated Marine who served in Vietnam, and played in a band. The middle of three children, Hall lived with music everyday. “There was always music in our house,” remembers Hall. “My dad played lots of reggae, Motown, and old soul.” He always encouraged Hall to sing along.
As a child, Hall joined the school band and played the clarinet. After seeing the movie Sister Act 2, Hall decided, “That’s how I want to sing.” Soon after, she joined the school and local church choirs.
Canton wasn’t all wine and roses. According to Hall, it was a “tough city.” She was amazed that neither she nor her siblings were ever shot. In her teenage years, she did get caught up in some “silly stuff,” as she puts it, and felt she needed to escape for her survival. A friend of her older brother who had moved to Hallowell always talked about the area, so, in 2001 twenty-year-old Hall and her siblings relocated to central Maine.
In Maine, it took her a while to get her own music together. She performed with bands covering other people’s material, but it never felt right. “I couldn’t sing as Kenya yet,” she explains. “So I would perform in wigs and outfits.”
When she shed the costumes years later, Hall’s powerful voice and songs flourished, and her life bloomed. Her roots started to sink into Maine. Quickly becoming a local music favorite, the Kenya Hall Band released a debut CD, Learning for Miles, Vol. 1. The gentle, sweet soul inspiration of Stevie Wonder is at times evident in Hall’s songs. But as she gets cooking live in concert, her funk and groove comes bursting out, drawing the audience into a party. She balances the hot and the cool so well.
Visiting Hall recently, one thing I noticed is that there are quite a few plants inside her home. There is life all around. I felt the energy of that life match her joyous aura and fantastic spirit. I also spent time talking with her four-year-old son, Miles. This little guy can light up any room with his smile. I asked him how he feels when his mom sings. “Happy,” he said shyly. That makes a few of us.
“There’s nothing else I’d like to do in life but hang with Miles and make music,” Hall proudly states. “There’s nothing in the world that’s made me as right as having a child.” Hall, who lost both of her parents in the past three years, is looking forward to planning and celebrating Miles’s fifth birthday. With new material on the way soon, life certainly goes on through the music of Kenya Hall.