Live music lovers tend to remember the first time her sweet and sultry voice filled their ears. As soon as Kelly Jarrard hit Mount Dora’s live music scene in 2014, she gained a bevy of loyal fans that embraced her heavily Motown-influenced mix of 60’s soul, jazz and funk.
The thirty-year-old is a free-spirited blend of Southern grit and girly-girl embedded in a light-hearted personality that belies her intense drive. After graduating from college, that ambition took the 23-year-old, self-taught guitarist from her hometown of Stockbridge, Georgia, to pursue her music career in Central Florida at the encouragement of a local music producer.
In addition to her creative endeavors, Jarrard’s personal life has also thrived in Lake County. In 2020, during the height of COVID-19, she married Michael McGowan, her boyfriend of three years. The Eustis-based couple recently dipped their toes into entrepreneurship with the opening of their mobile kayak rental business.
Mount Dora Buzz sat down with the upbeat singer-songwriter over coffee to find out what lies beneath her talent and sweet, fun vibe.
MDB: What came first: guitar or singing? KJ: Singing. I was a shy closet-singer and even hid it from my family. (She would later sing in the high school choir and graduated with honors from Clayton State University with a Bachelor's degree in Music with a focus in Vocal Performance. )
MDB: How old were you when you played your first paid gig? KJ: I was like 15 (laughs). It was at Mellow Mushroom in Stockbridge, Georgia.
MDB: Who are your three favorite artists? KJ:(Thinks for a bit) Amy Winehouse, Aretha Franklin and Mayer Hawthorne.
MDB: What artist’s work would you never attempt to cover? KJ:(Sigh) Taylor Swift. I really don’t like current music too much.
MDB: What two artists would you like to grab a drink with? KJ: Hmmm. That’s a tough one. Pharrel...and Joss Stone.
MDB: What’s your dream performance venue? KJ:(Immediately and excitedly) Red Rocks Park Amphitheatre in Colorado.
MDB: Finish this sentence, “I’ll know I made it when…” KJ:I have an amazing beach house in Hawaii! (laughs)
MDB: After beginning to write your own music at 13, you cut your first album, “It’s Time” in 2019. Are you working on another album? KJ:Yes, I’m hoping to put out a Christmas album and another album of original songs.
MDB: You’re insanely talented, do you ever think of going on The Voice or another network talent show? KJ: I did! (laughs) I tried out for The Voice and America’s Got Talent. I sang for Howie Mandell and Sharon Osbourne, but didn’t advance.
To get to know Jarrard better, it was time to venture off-topic to see what else there is to this talented boho girl.
MDB: You have a lot of ink. Tell me about your tats. KJ: I got my first at 19 and it says “music” using different music symbols (on her forearm). Ninety percent of them are music-related tattoos that were done in Atlanta. (Jarrard’s large mermaid tat was chosen because she’s “always beachy and wanted to be a mermaid which, coincidentally, also sings.” The very cool abstract guitar on her thigh is her favorite so far.)
MDB: You’re still a newlywed. Finish this sentence: “The biggest change has been…” KJ: “Being a homeowner of a fixer-upper.” (Jarrard and her husband live in an historic bungalow in Eustis. )
MDB: You have a lot of positive traits, what’s your most annoying one? KJ: I’m too apologetic all the time!” (laughs)
MDB: Three words to describe yourself? KJ: Talented, fun, colorful
MDB: Three words your husband would use? KJ: Smart. He always tells me that. Trustworthy, and I think he would say beautiful.
MDB: What is your biggest music-related fear? KJ: Oooh. I’m afraid of puking on stage (laughs). It hasn’t happened before.
MDB: What is your biggest non-music related fear? KJ:(Ponders) Not being accepted.
MDB: What’s your guilty pleasure? KJ: Watching kids’ movies (laughs). I love Disney’s Aristocats and Little Mermaid, but I’d have to say Aristocats.
MDB: Tell me a secret about yourself? One that not a lot of people know. KJ: I don’t always want to be in the limelight.
MDB: What day of the year would you like to celebrate twice a year? KJ:(Smiles) My birthday!
MDB: What’s your biggest pet peeve? KJ: Two songs playing at the same time.
MDB: Who’s your celebrity crush? KJ: I don’t really have them anymore, but the last one was Jake Gyllenhaal.
MDB: If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be? KJ: Hawaii! (she’s never been)
MDB: Now it’s time for Mount Dora Buzz's speed round of “Would you Rather...”
MDB: Asheville or Cancun? KJ: Asheville.
MDB: New Wave or old-school country? KJ: New Wave.
MDB: Superbowl tickets or shopping spree? KJ: Shopping spree.
MDB: “Ring of Fire” or Earth Wind & Fire? KJ: Earth Wind & Fire.
MDB: Sailboat or speedboat? KJ: Sailboat.
MDB: Steak or soy? KJ: Steak.
MDB: Cats or dogs? KJ: Cats.
MDB: Hug or handshake? KJ: Hug.
MDB: Belly laughs or giggles? KJ: Belly laughs.
MDB: Eiffel Tower or Grand Canyon? KJ: Eiffel Tower.
MDB: Snow or sweat? KJ: Sweat.
MDB: Insta or Facebook? KJ: Insta.
MDB: Rat or roach? KJ: Ugh! Rat.
MDB: Fast & Furious or chick flick? KJ: Chick flick.
Jarrard can be heard regularly performing live at Mount Dora’s top live music venues, at Disney Springs and other regional venues. Her album “It’s Time,” with its seven original tracks, is currently available on iTunes, Spotify, Amazon Music and other music outlets.