For years Kenna Turner West has been known as one of Christian music's premium writers. Her songs have been recorded by artists such as Jason Crabb, Hillary Scott, The Martins, The Crabb Family, The Isaacs, The Booth Brothers and many more. On August 27, she is coming out to the spotlight by releasing her first full-length album for Sonlite Records with A Reason For Hope. Pre-order, add or save A Reason For Hope HERE.
Recorded at Crossroads Studios with a top shelf team led by award-winning producer Jeff Collins, A Reason For Hope locates itself on the forward-looking side of today's Southern Gospel musical spectrum, its tasteful blend of contemporary arrangements and production frequently incorporating elements of Inspirational Christian, as well as touches of Country, Pop and even African-American gospel sounds.
We are honored to catch up with Kenna for this exclusive interview.
Q: Kenna, thanks for doing this interview with us. Coming from a musical family with your dad singing for the Blackwood Brothers Quartet and with Dottie West as your mother-in-law, how did your family influence you as a songwriter?
A: This is a total honor! Thanks for asking! As for my family's influence on my career as a songwriter, I believe that growing up in Gospel Music has had a tremendous influence on my songwriting. I grew up listening to songs written by Phil Johnson, Neil Enloe, Lanny Wolfe, and Dottie Rambo-all of which comes to bear upon what I do today. Add to that my husband, Kerry-who also grew up in a musical family and can play virtually any instrument you place in his hands-and it all somehow comes full circle. Our gifts in music have always come alongside one another: I am a singer and he is an engineer; and I am a limited musician, so in the early years, it was Kerry who helped me chart out the chords to the songs that were in my head. Bless his heart! If it wasn't for Kerry's patience with me 25 years ago, I wouldn't be doing what I do today.
Q: Did you always want to be a songwriter?
A: Not really. I wanted to be a nurse for many years, and then in high school, I dreamed of becoming a singer. I wrote a few songs as a kid, which were awful (but they rhymed!), then I began writing a little more consistently in my twenties-but the songs were basically just a devotional tool for me, personally. However, in the late 90s, I began to see my life intersecting with the verses of scripture I was reading, and I wrote down what I was feeling-which came to my heart with a melody and rhyme. Sometimes I shared them with my family, but I had no real intent on them being heard-not in the early days.
Q: What was the first song you wrote that was first cut by an artist? How did that happen?
A: My first cut was a song called "A Taste of Grace," which was a title cut for Karen Peck & New River in January of 2000. Her hit song "Four Days Late" was on that record, so it was a tremendous blessing to be a part of that historic project. How the cut came to be-I love telling this story! Let me back up a few years to 1998 or so, when I was at a Tuesday night Bible study at my church. A friend named Debbie---right in the middle of Pastor Bob's class-leaned over and whispered that I should be singing some of my own songs. Well, no one knew that I wrote songs but my family, so I knew that what she was saying was from the Lord.
A few months later, I recorded a project of original material with our church band; soon after, another friend from church named Doris gave that CD of original songs to the publisher at Spring Hill-a record label where she worked that at the time was home to KPNR, Jeff & Sheri Easter, and many more. Doris called one night to tell me what she has done, and I was devastated. I felt sure that my songs were about to be rejected, and each of those songs represented a part of my heart.
However, the next day, they invited me in for a meeting and offered me the opportunity to write for them! On the little CD of original material that Doris gave the publisher was the song, "A Taste of Grace," which Karen recorded. Then a few months later, Jeff & Sheri recorded "We're Not Gonna Bow," which became my first radio single and first #1. It really is extraordinary to think about-how God has placed people in my life who believe in me more than I do; were it not for them, I might still have a stack of unheard songs in a notebook under my bed. I am so grateful for those sweet ladies!
Q: Having written so many songs, I guess songwriting must come easy for you. What was the most difficult song you wrote? And why was it difficult to write?
A: I think the hardest song I've ever been a part of writing is "He Welcomes the Beggar." Amber Eppinette, of the group 11th Hour, brought the idea to Jason Cox and me; and as soon as I heard the title, I could see the outline for it: verse one could be about the parable of Lazarus in Luke 16, and verse two could be about us, with the chorus being something of significance that is true of both stories.
The problem we faced was that apart from the common theme of both Lazarus and us being beggars that are welcomed by God, everything else is different. For example, after Lazarus died, the parable tells us in verse 22 that he was carried by angels to "Abrahams Bosom;" yet on this side of the Cross, when we die, we are immediately in the presence of the Lord (Luke 23:43). Those kinds of details made the chorus incredibly difficult to write, but after a few long hours, it occurred to me that maybe we should not try to write the details but the "bigger picture"-the moment God welcomes beggars just like you and me into His Kingdom-and we did just that, in tears. It was a very long but amazing day that the three of us still talk about every time we write. :)
Q: You have written so many songs for so many artists, is there any artist you haven't written for and you would like to?
A: I think every songwriter on the planet has a list of artists that they would love to hear singing a song that they were a part of. For me, it would be the Gaither Vocal Band. While I have had cuts on Wes Hampton and Adam Crabb (including his current single, "Higher"), I've not had a song recorded by the group. That is on the proverbial bucket list!
Q: When and how did you decide to record an album of your own?
A: I've been in ministry since 1983, so I have recorded various projects over the years, but it has always been outside the music industry. My ministry has always been to the local church, then about ten years ago, I transitioned from full-time singing and part-time writing to full-time writing and part-time singing-which allowed my friends and I to write roughly 100 songs a year. A number of those songs have been recorded by artists who sing them over God's people, and we absolutely love playing a small part in their ministries. Then last year, Chris White and Greg Bentley texted and asked if I'd be interested in recording a project with Crossroads. I was floored, because I am in my mid-fifties (okay, my "upper" mid-fifties) and the notion of signing with a record company hasn't been on my radar for thirty years; yet the team at Crossroads has listened to me sing demos for years, and they believe in me and what I do-and I am so very grateful for the opportunity!
Q: How's it different wearing the singer's hat now instead of just the songwriter's?
A: I think for me, I see each of those different ministries as an extension of the other. As a singer, my career began 1983 when God opened the door for me to go on the road and share the Good News of Jesus. In time, He not only expanded the ministry to include writing songs, but also writing a book, which began to open doors for me to speak and teach; which further led to a board-certification in Biblical counseling a few years ago, and my current working toward a master's in theology. And though each hat I wear may look like different forms of ministry, I see it all as different aspects of the singular ministry God has called me to. So, depending on the day of the week, I might be writing a song, or I might be writing an article for a magazine; I might be mentoring another writer, or I might be flying out to sing or speak-yet it is all true to the calling I feel God has placed upon my life. Everything I do-all of it-is for one purpose: to communicate the Gospel.
Q: What were some of the highlights in the making of "A Reason for Hope"?
A: Wow, there are so many! I loved writing the songs with some of my closest friends on the planet, and to have some of my best friends singing on it with me was an incredible experience. Add to that the duet with Joseph Habedank, who is like a little brother to me, and-wow-pass me a Kleenex. :) Then to think that the team at Crossroads believes in what I do enough to create this opportunity for me to step into, it's all very humbling.
Q: What do you want your listeners to take away after hearing your new album?
A: As a singer and songwriter, my prayer is that this collection of songs will connect with hearts. Every song on the project has a purpose, whether it was written to the believer, to the one who has not yet experienced salvation through faith in Christ, or to the one who has somehow lost their way. The songs remind us of the goodness and the faithfulness of God, and that there is "always a reason for hope." They remind us that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, and that there is forgiveness for "every wandering soul." They remind us to not be weary in our well-doing and to persevere in prayer. Those are some of the takeaways. In the big picture, my prayer for every listener is Romans 15:13, "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit."