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Jazz singer records album

November 11, 2012|By MEG TULLY | Special to The Herald-Mail
  • Kerensa Gray said she had asthma that kept her from singing until she was 31.
Submitted photo

Stop by The Gourmet Goat in Hagerstown any Saturday night and the smoky voice of Kerensa Gray will likely be flowing through the room.

Gray, a Waynesboro, Pa., resident, always wanted to sing, but her childhood asthma held her back.

It was so severe, she said, that several times paramedics had to be called, her breathing stopped. At its worse, she had a seizure and passed out because of lack of oxygen. She poured herself into learning violin instead.

Then, when she was 31 and well past the age most people grow out of childhood asthma, hers went away. Gray, a Christian, said she experienced a healing.

From that day forward, she set about perfecting her singing voice.

Now, at 39, Gray has just released her second album “Bliss” — filled with jazz music that is a throwback to the cabaret days of the 1940s. She recorded the album outside of Nashville, Tenn. It was released Sept. 30 by Creative Soul Jazz, of Nashville, in partnership with Next Level Jazz and Kerensa Gray Jazz.

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Gray is a full-time musician, but she previously worked as a private vocal, strings and piano teacher. She began her singing career by winning Baltimore’s 20th annual Billie Holiday Vocal Competition in 2009, which had more than 1,000 entries. At the same time, she was in the process of working on her first album, Let Me Be, a gospel/jazz crossover that focused on her life journey.

Gray doesn’t take singing for granted, as she wasn’t able to do it in childhood.

“I had God heal me, and I worked very hard to live up to that promise,” she said.

She worked especially hard at control and lung capacity, seeking out vocal coaches she admired and becoming involved in the Baltimore jam session scene. She said her music background was also instrumental in learning how to sing.

“In order to play a string instrument, your ear has to be so well tuned,” Gray said. “So that for me, was a brilliant start, because it trained my ear so finely that I can hear the tiniest adjustment in a pitch.”

Gray grew up in Cumberland, Md., and earned an associate’s degree in music at Potomac State College. It was working with other artists, though, that has taught her the most about music.

In her new album, Gray features many musicians, including Tom Hemby on guitar and Gary Lunn on bass.

Gray was thrilled to work with them because they’ve worked with many famous musicians, such as Faith Hill, Wynonna Judd and Brian McKnight.

“Bliss” is composed of songs Gray wrote while people watching, and a few popular favorite covers, such as “Fever” and “At Last.”

One of the songs she wrote, “Sometimes,” is about finding love when it’s least expected She based the song on a couple of friends she has who decided not to date, but always return to each other when something is going wrong in their lives. The two are still friends, but Gray wanted to capture the powerful feelings between them.

Another song, the title track, was written for a restaurant in Bel Air, Md., called Bliss. The restaurant closed a few years ago, but she wanted to honor the jazz family that rose up out of the tiny establishment.

Her previous album chronicled her personal story.

“I wanted to take a break and write outside of myself,” Gray said. “Not the big issues, not political things. Just the every day walk that everybody has. Everybody has their own story.”

Kerensa Gray will perform at the following locations:

  • 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 17, The Gourmet Goat Restaurant and Martini Bar at 41 N. Potomac Street, downtown Hagerstown
  • 6:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 21, at Georgia Boy Cafe at Park Circle, 325 Virigina Ave., Hagerstown.

“Bliss” can be purchased at The Gourmet Goat  or through www.indieheaven.com.

For more information on Kerenesa Gray go to www.kerensagray.com.

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