Born on March 26, 1968, in Lutrelle, TN; married Renee Zellweger (an actress), 2005. Education: Eastern Tennessee State University, B.S. in marketing, 1991. Addresses: Record company--BNA Entertainment, 1 Music Circle North, Nashville, TN 37203-4310. Website--Kenny Chesney Official Website: http://www.kennychesney.com.
Blessed with a voice that sounds older than his years, Kenny Chesney is a country vocalist in the hard-core country style. Heavily influenced by such classical stylists as Merle Haggard and George "the Possum" Jones, he has also drawn on the country rock of Charlie Daniels and his band. Through Chesney's talent and his dogged persistence in the face of a first recording contract that didn't pan out, the singles off his more recent albums for BNA have consistently charted in the top ten. "I want a 20-year career, not just a few records that go gold and then are gone," Chesney told Michael A. Capozzoli Jr. in Country Weekly. Since the singer/songwriter first hit the streets of Nashville in 1991, he has shown that he has what it takes to make that wish a reality.
Chesney was born March 26, 1968, in Lutrelle, a small town near Knoxville, Tennessee, that is famous as the birthplace of guitar virtuoso Chet Atkins. As a boy he listened to country and bluegrass music along with his friends, but his own dreams were of becoming a star athlete---maybe a baseball player---rather than a country singer. By the time he reached high school, his family had moved to Knoxville, and Chesney became serious about football. He also had his first flirtation with music: he and a friend joined the local choir and were inspired by the choir director's enthusiasm for melody and vocal harmony.
In 1986, after graduating from high school, Chesney enrolled at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, where he decided to pursue a degree in business. Then, on Christmas Day of his sophomore year, he received a guitar as a gift. With his earlier enthusiasm for music renewed, Chesney learned enough chords to work out the Eagles' "Tequila Sunrise." "I wasn't sure what I wanted to do," the singer told Linda Burchfield in Country Song Roundup. "Until I got my first guitar, and then I was hooked." Pretty soon he was entertaining his friends with his singing and was writing his own songs as well. Encouraged by his roommates, he got a gig at a small restaurant near campus, but was disappointed by the lack of response from the restaurant's rowdy Saturday night student crowd. However, Chesney didn't give up; he continued to play at small restaurants and clubs near campus. Eventually he rented some studio time at Classic Recording in Bristol, Virginia, and laid down an album's worth of self-penned tracks. Sales of tapes at his shows were so successful that Chesney was soon able to buy himself a brand-new Martin guitar with the profits.
Chesney's fan following expanded as he moved further from his base on campus and began playing venues in Virginia and the Carolinas. Even though the music bug had bitten hard, he fought the urge to quit school and move to Nashville. After graduating from East Tennessee State with a degree in advertising and marketing in December of 1991, however, he wasted no time in pulling up stakes and moving to the Music City to become a songwriter. Playing clubs at night and parking cars by day, Chesney kept the bills paid while doing his homework on the country music industry. "I read every book about the music business that I could get my hands on," he told Burchfield. "Then I just picked up the phone and called [BMI publishing executive] Clay Bradley." Bradley helped the young newcomer get a songwriter's contract with Acuff/Rose Publishing in 1992.
After an appearance at a local songwriters' showcase in 1993, Chesney landed a recording contract with Capricorn Records' new country division, and released his critically acclaimed debut album, In My Wildest Dreams. The 1994 album featured Chesney's first recording of "The Tin Man," which made it to number 70 on the charts. Unfortunately for the young artist, Capricorn disbanded its country division shortly thereafter, leaving Chesney with a record but no promotional help. By that time, however, his talents as a songwriter and vocalist were well known in town, and BNA was waiting in the wings. That label, which signed Chesney in 1995, also purchased the master disks to In My Wildest Dreams. Chesney's first album with BNA, All I Need To Know, would feature a reprise of "The Tin Man" as its first single.
All I Need to Know, produced by Barry Beckett, showcased Chesney the traditionalist, backed by fiddles, steel, and a lot of country flavor. The vocalist sounded as much at home on such emotion-filled love songs as the title track "Fall in Love" and "Honey Would You Stand by Me," as he did on ballads like "The Tin Man" and "Grandpa Told Me So." One of the recording's highlights was "Between Midnight and Daylight," a honky tonk's "last call" before closing down the bar. Taken as a whole, All I Need To Know, on which Chesney co-wrote four songs, reflected the artist's traditional sensibilities and would result in Chesney's first two top ten hits: "Me and You" and "When I Close My Eyes."
Since his first album was released, Chesney has spent most of his time on the road, touring with artists like Aaron Tippin, Confederate Railroad, Jones, Trisha Yearwood, Clay Walker, and Patty Loveless, and otherwise promoting his work. In addition to his own songs he has covered hits by Keith Whitley, Jones, and Haggard in his stage show---in fact, the singer's all-time favorite song is Haggard's "That's the Way Love Goes." Chesney's favorite venues are fairs, festivals, and roomy honky tonks, where he can perform a show of more than two hours and pull out all the stops.
Me and You, released by BNA in 1996, was a more pulled-together effort than its predecessors, but remained solidly in the country camp. It was also Chesney's first gold album. The album's first single, "Back in My Arms Again," quickly climbed the charts, and "When I Close My Eyes" made it all the way to the number one spot. In addition to releasing Me and You, Chesney continued to tour with Alabama, with whom he had been opening to crowds of 15,000 fans a night since 1994. With that kind of exposure, sales of his third album continued to rise.
Chesney co-wrote three of the eleven tracks on 1997's I Will Stand, which was fronted by the single "She's Got It All." "I went through a lot of stressful nights, wondering which songs to keep and which to let go, because this is a very pivotal album for me," Chesney told Deborah Evans Price of Billboard, about his third BNA effort. He explained his personal songwriting goals to interviewer Dixie Weathersby in Close Up: "As a songwriter and an artist, I want to try to make somebody laugh, I want to try to make somebody cry, I want to try to make somebody remember their first girlfriend or their first kiss. You want to try to make them miss somebody or want something." In addition to pulling emotions from his listeners, Chesney also wanted to cut a tune or two that was hard-core country, regardless of whether country radio played it or not. "Hillbilly Heaven with Their Honky Tonk Hell" was that song, which featured backup vocals by fellow Young Country artist Tracy Lawrence and by "The Possum" himself, who Chesney maintained is "the best country singer there ever was." Of additional interest on the album is an acoustic version of Chesney's hit "When I Close My Eyes," which he performed live for several years prior to recording it.
Rather than try to make a big splash, Chesney has remained conservative in planning his career. "I am glad I have taken really small steps," he told Weathersby. "I have learned something in every step that helped me get to the next one.... Shoot, if I get to do this for 20 more years, and I am still taking these small steps, then that is what I'm going to do because I love country music."
Chesney's conservative approach changed quickly, however, with the release of Everywhere We Go in 1999. The album sold over two million copies, and two singles, "You Had Me From Hello" and "How Forever Feels," reached number one. Another single from the album, "She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy," reached number two on the charts. The following year Chesney released his first Greatest Hits collection, which included two new songs, "I Lost It" (number three) and "Don't Happen Twice" (number one). Greatest Hits reached number one on the album chart, and like Everywhere We Go, was awarded platinum status. While impressive, Chesney's chart success and album sales were just warmups for the release of the commercially and critically acclaimed No Shirt, No Shoes, No Problem in 2002. The album reached number one and included four top ten singles.
In 2003 Chesney recorded his first holiday album, All I Want for Christmas Is a Real Good Tan. "The sunny south of the border vibe that lit up the video for No Shirt's title cut," wrote Johnny Loftus in All Music Guide, "is alive and well on All I Want for Christmas Is a Real Good Tan." The year 2004 would prove yet another banner year for Chesney, with the release of the chart topping When the Sun Goes Down. The recording was named Album of the Year by the Country Music Association, and Chesney was named Entertainer of the Year. In January of 2005 Chesney performed at the Celebration of Freedom Concert at President Bush's second inauguration, an event designed to pay tribute to the United States' military personnel. Early in 2005 Chesney released Be As You Are (Songs from an Old Blue Chair), his ninth full-length album. He also shocked fans with a sudden wedding to Academy Award-winning actress Renee Zellweger in May of 2005. The couple had met earlier that year.
by Pamela Shelton and Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr
Kenny Chesney's Career
Began performing in small clubs, Johnson City, TN, 1987; moved to Nashville, 1991; signed with Acuff/Rose, 1992; signed with Capricorn, 1993; released debut album In My Wildest Dreams, 1994; signed with BNA, 1995; released holiday album All I Want for Christmas Is a Real Good Tan, 2003; performed at presidential inauguration, 2005.
Kenny Chesney's Awards
Country Music Television Flame Worthy Awards, Male Video of the Year for "There Goes My Life," and Hottest Video of the Year for "No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems," 2004; Country Music Association Awards, Album of the Year for When the Sun Goes Down, and Entertainer of the Year, both 2004; American Music Award, T-Mobile Text-In Award, 2004; Country Music Awards, Entertainer of the Year, 2005.
- Selected discography
- In My Wildest Dreams Capricorn, 1994.
- All I Need to Know BNA, 1995.
- Me and You BNA, 1996.
- Everywhere We Go BNA, 1999.
- No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problem BNA, 2002.
- All I Want for Christmas Is a Real Good Tan BNA, 2003.
- When the Sun Goes Down BNA, 2004.
- Be as You Are (Songs from an Old Blue Chair) BNA, 2005.
September 14, 2005: Chesney's wife of four months, actress Renee Zellweger, filed for annulment, citing fraud as the reason. Source: USA Today, www.usatoday.com/life/people/2005-09-15-zellweger-chesney_x.htm, September 16, 2005.
- Billboard, April 12, 1997; June 14, 1997.
- Close Up, March 1997.
- Country Song Roundup, December 1995; October 1996; December 1996.
- Country Weekly, April 29, 1997.
- Entertainment Weekly, May 17, 2002; January 28, 2005.
- People, May 23, 2005; July 4, 2005.
- "Country Music honors Chesney, others," CNN.com, http://www.cnn.com/2005/SHOWBIZ/Music/05/18/music.countryawards.ap/index.html (May 18, 2005).
- "Kenny Chesney," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com/ (March 10, 2005).
- Additional information for this profile was provided by BNA Entertainment.