Open Air co-host to emcee and perform with her band at JPR’s 41st annual Wine Tasting
Whether she’s bringing local crowds into a dancing frenzy with her musical moxie or exposing radio listeners to compelling, eclectic tracks as co-host of Jefferson Public Radio’s “Open Air,” vocalist Danielle Kelly seems to always have her hands full with countless creative pursuits around the region.
Beyond her prominent roles as front woman of the Danielle Kelly Soul Project and music tastemaker at the public radio station, Kelly wears many hats.
The local creative is also a commercial and film actor, manages her soul and jazz bands and models, along with recent developments as a solo artist, voice actor and program director for the Northern California Resource Center.
“I love what I do; I love being busy,” Kelly said.
Born in Sitka, Alaska, the artist was raised on the syncopated rhythms of jazz, the popular music of the ’90s and the Motown melodies of Detroit, her mother’s hometown.
“My uncles would send me Alanis Morissette’s ‘Jagged Little Pill’ and Dave Matthews Band and Sheryl Crow,” she said, noting her father introduced her to artists like James Taylor and Bob Marley.
“We listened to a lot of Motown in my house; we listened to a lot of Stevie Wonder, a lot of the girl groups,” Kelly said.
“My dad grew up in a super musical family; his dad was an Army band director and his family owned a music store,” she added.
As Kelly continued to expand her musical tastes, she found her calling after getting the opportunity to see singer and pianist Diana Krall up close.
“In middle school I got to hear Diana Krall at a jazz festival and see her do a sound check,” she said.
Seeing the Canadian artist’s stage presence and jaw-dropping expertise on the keys blew Kelly away.
“That was sort of the moment where I thought, ‘that’s what I want to do when I grow up’ … I didn’t know how or what, but I want to do that somehow,” she said.
Trading southeast Alaska for Southern Oregon, Kelly attended Southern Oregon University and received a bachelor’s degree in acting, but took a hiatus from the music scene and worked in Ashland’s fine dining industry.
Years later, the creative rediscovered her musical passion as a fill-in for a local jazz trio while cocktailing at an Ashland eatery.
“The very first place I started was singing at Martino’s for $40 a week and a cheese pizza with the Paul Schmeling Trio,” she said.
What started as a performance from time to time eventually grew over a couple years to the formation of a jazz band and the Danielle Kelly Soul Project.
“With the Danielle Kelly Soul Project, I feel like I can let loose a little bit more and it’s a little bit more approachable,” she said of the band, adding, “It’s upbeat, it’s danceable and we have a lot of fun with the audience.”
The soul group continued to grow its base of support since being established in 2012, covering artists from Amy Winehouse to Prince to Aretha Franklin.
The outfit started writing their own tracks in 2020 with Kelly spearheading the group as front-woman and manager.
As glamorous as the role can be, there’s a lot more to it than just belting out lyrics and getting the crowd grooving.
“I would say a lot of people assume that a lead singer just walks in and is handed a cocktail and steps up to the microphone, but I’m booking the shows, I’m writing the emails, I’m soliciting the work, I’m making a case for our band, I’m working with the venues,” Kelly said. “There’s like 1 million moving pieces; that’s a really big, fun, interesting puzzle game of ‘Tetris’ to play.”
Her musical wit and sense for sound was noticed by JPR, with the radio station’s former music director bringing Kelly into the fold around eight years ago.
“I love this job and I love JPR; I love everybody that works here and I love public radio in general,” she said. “I love what it stands for and I think it’s such a valuable resource in any community but especially in ours because we’re in such a unique little rural corner of the world.”
With co-hosts Dave Jackson and Noah Lindsay, Kelly hosts “Open Air,” bringing unique music from around the world as one of the Southern Oregon’s top musical tastemakers.
The show’s sonic spectrum ranges from jazz to folk music to indie rock to world music, with the hosts interviewing artists and bands along with bringing live sessions on the air.
“It’s a pretty crazy range …. and we get to support and champion local artists too who are doing great things,” she said.
Kelly is bringing a bunch of new music and creative projects in 2024, including the Feb. 2 release of her new solo single “So Good.”
Working with local producers such as Jared Alexander Masters, Kelly aims to release four new singles by springtime as a solo artist, she said.
Kelly will also feature in a film by Ashland filmmakers Gary and Annie Lundgren, with the motion picture scheduled to release in April.
Another key pursuit for Kelly in 2024 is voice acting.
“That’s the next piece of the pie that I’m trying to wedge in there,” she said of voice acting.
Kelly also accepted a new role as program director of the Northern California Resource Center, organizing the organization’s upcoming GlowFest in June, focused on music and film.
“I think that’s the recipe for being successful as a creative; you can’t say ‘I’m only going to do this one thing and I’m going to make all my money that way,'” she said of her branching pursuits.
Kelly and the JPR crew will soon host their 41st annual Wine Tasting party at 6 p.m. Friday, Feb. 9, with Kelly performing with her soul band and emceeing the event.