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Members include Heather Kinley (born Heather Lynn Kinley on November 5, 1970, in Philadelphia, PA), vocals; Jennifer Kinley (born Jennifer Joan Kinley on November 5, 1970, in Philadelphia, PA), vocals. Addresses: Record company--Epic Records/Sony Nashville Records, 34 Music Square East, Nashville, TN 37203,.
With tight vocal harmonies, sophisticated musical arrangements, and an appealing family image, twin sisters Jennifer and Heather Kinley--performing as the Kinleys--are standard-bearers of contemporary country music. Although their lyrics cover material long-familiar to country music listeners--including romance, family ties, and spiritual themes--the arrangements and presentation of their music have more in common with mainstream pop artists than some traditional Grand Ole Opry performers. Having earned credibility and acceptance with country music audiences, the Kinleys stand a good chance of maintaining their fan base while gaining recognition with pop music fans, as well.
Born on November 5, 1970 to Paul and Joan Kinley, Jennifer and Heather grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Although their hometown was far removed from the country music capital of Nashville, Tennessee, the girls' musical interests incorporated a wide range of contemporary and traditional influences ranging from the Andrews Sisters and Tammy Wynette to songs from the Greasemovie soundtrack. Above all other singers, however, the sisters were fascinated by the close vocal harmonies that they heard in the music of the Everly Brothers, who have remained a constant source of inspiration throughout their career.
Encouraged by their parents' singing at home, the sisters starting taking vocal lessons and began performing at the age of eight at local talent shows. In addition, they enjoyed performing at family gatherings and nursing homes, often presenting a mix of show tunes, pop standards, and more current songs. From the age of 12, however, the sisters began to develop a country music repertoire, and with the growing popularity of the mother-daughter duo the Judds in the early 1980s, the Kinleys found show business role models that would inspire them both musically and professionally. As Jennifer recalled in an iMusic online interview, "I remember watching awards shows and realizing how much country musicians appreciated their fans. They conveyed such a strong American feeling. And I thought, 'If I could become part of that, I'd be honored.' I love what country stands for."
In 1990, the sisters moved to Nashville to focus on their music. The Nashville music scene the girls encountered was undergoing some fundamental changes that would shape the direction of country music and similarly, the direction of the Kinleys' own music. More and more country music labels were being bought out or formed by national and--in the case of the Kinleys' eventual record label, Sony Nashville--international corporations, who looked at country music as something that could earn immense profits with pop music fans around the world. Although some die-hard country music fans were critical of performers who strayed too far from traditional country songs and sounds to achieve mainstream acceptance, the early 1990s were a time of tremendous growth for the country music industry, as record-breaking album sales by Garth Brooks. And, despite the criticism from some fans, the popularity of country music demonstrated convincingly that the genre was now truly American music and could no longer be dismissed as a regional musical style.
With Jennifer playing the piano and Heather on the guitar, the sisters refined their performance techniques while taking on a series of jobs ranging from waitressing to telemarketing in order to make their ends meet during their days as an unsigned vocal group in Nashville. The sisters also made a wide range of contacts throughout the music industry, and began to collaborate with other song writers in the hope of polishing their demo tape with original material that showcased their vocal abilities. After six years of working various jobs while attending writers' showcases and building up a string of public appearances throughout Nashville, the sisters secured a contract with Epic Records, part of Sony Nashville's lineup.
The key to the Kinleys' breakthrough was a composition they co-wrote with Russ and Debbie Zavitson, "Just Between You and Me," a song that not only earned them a recording contract, but served as the title for their first album and an eventual hit single on the country charts as well. Released in 1997, Just Between You and Me put the Kinleys' vocal harmonies at the forefront of their music, with Heather taking lead vocals on most of the tracks. While the production featured mostly up-tempo, pop-oriented arrangements reminiscent of the pop group Wilson Phillips, the Kinleys embarked on an aggressive marketing campaign aimed squarely at getting airplay on country music radio stations. In an interview with Deborah Evans Price in Billboard to publicize their debut, Heather recalled, "I've never visited so many cities so quickly in my life, but the great thing has been being able to see who is playing our music."
Although some reviews of the album noted that its lyrical content did not meet the sophistication of the Kinleys' vocal abilities and musical arrangements, their promotional work with radio programmers and fans paid off. Just Between You and Me earned a gold record after its release and eventually sold 750,000 copies. In addition, the duo earned the Best New Duo award from the Academy of Country Music Association. Seven years after moving to Nashville--and with the success of their first release--the Kinleys had lived up to their inspiration of seeing country music stars on awards programs.
Despite their initial success, there was a three-year wait for the Kinleys' second album, II, released in 2000. In the interval, Jennifer married musician Adam Hughes, and Heather announced her wedding in the winter of 2000 to Mark Mendenhall, a pharmaceuticals representative. As on their first release, the Kinleys were also busy co-writing songs; about half of the tracks on II were Kinley collaborations. However, the album marked a departure in favor of a slightly less polished sound on some of the tracks. While Just Between You and Me stayed safely within the bounds of standard country-pop productions, with a couple of blues-oriented tracks to show their range, at least half of II ventured into more traditional country territory.
The result was "a gracefully gritty collection that should endear them to contemporary country fans and the kind of country-savvy pop fans that embrace acts like the Judds and the Dixie Chicks," a reviewer for National Public Radio noted upon its release. Although some critics disliked the album because of its standard lyrical fare of light, romantic tunes, it earned approval from sources as diverse as People, which called it a "brightly melodic, lively project," and the Dallas Morning News, which praised "the duo's glorious wrap-around harmonies--bluesy like the Judds, smooth like the Everlys, yet unmistakably Kinleys." Just as successful as its predecessor, II also benefited from aggressive marketing efforts that included numerous personal appearances, music videos, and promotion by their record label that highlighted the duo's more mature perspective.
At a time when country music stars like Shania Twain, Faith Hill, and Leann Rimes had conquered the pop charts--often with remixes of their songs produced specifically to gain airplay on Top 40 radio stations--the risk of moving into more traditional country territory was a bold move for the Kinleys. With their continued success on the country charts, however, and more enthusiastic critical notices, it was a risk that paid off. As Jennifer Kinley told Ray Waddell of Billboard, "There was a time when we were concerned about making sure we stayed true to what we were musically. There were times when we strayed and brought it back, but we feel that the final product is where we need to be right now."
by Timothy Borden
The Kinleys's Career
Took vocal lessons as youngsters and performed in local talent shows around Philadelphia from the age of eight; moved to Nashville, TN, to pursue career as singers, 1990; worked at various jobs before securing a recording contract, 1996; released first album, Just Between You and Me, 1997; released second album, II, 2000.
The Kinleys's Awards
Best New Duo, Academy of Country Music Association, 1998.
- Selected discography
- Just Between You and Me Epic Records/Sony Nashville Records, 1997.
- (Contributor) Touched by an Angel (television soundtrack), Sony Records, 1998.
- II Epic Records/Sony Nashville Records, 2000.
- Feiler, Bruce, Dreaming Out Loud: Garth Brooks, Wynonna Judd, Wade Hayes, and the Changing Face of Nashville, Avon Books, 1998.
- Billboard, August 16, 1997, p 29; June 17, 2000, p. 41.
- Country Music, October/November, 2000, p. 86.
- Dallas Morning News, August 2, 2000, p. 1C.
- People, July 24, 2000, p. 37.
- CNN.com, http://www.cnn.com (February 17, 2001).
- Country.com, http://www.country.com (February 8, 2001).
- Countrymusic.com, http://www.countrymusic.about.com (February 17, 2001).
- iMusic Country Showcase, http://www.imusic.artistdirect.com (February 17, 2001).
- Sony Nashville Records Website, http://www.sonynashville.com (February 8, 2001).
- National Public Radio, All Things Considered, August 15, 2000.
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