When Kelita sings, people pay attention. Her rich, warm voice captures the ear immediately. Her clear, honest lyrics speak directly to the heart.
Kelita, who knew she wanted to be a performer at age four, is a singer-songwriter whose career has seen many highlights. Well known across Canada for her superb musical achievements, Kelita’s new Contemporary Christian music is the most personal and moving work she has produced to date.
Amongst many Kelita has shared stages with Jim Carrey, Reba McEntire, Randy Travis and Michelle Wright, and performed on numerous television programs including Nashville Now, The Tommy Hunter Show, Sun Country (a booster of both Kelita and K.D. Lang in their early days and the Canadian Country Music Awards (CCMA) show. Her Song New Love received the Country Music News Fan Award for Single of the Year and in 1988 Kelita recorded Neighbours of the World, the official song for Calgary during the Winter Olympics.
Kelita has released several albums, Kelita in 1983 (Boot Records), Too Hot to Handle in 1986 (RCA/Ariola International) and The Strong One in 1999 (Heart & Soul Music), Naked Soul in 2000 (Heart and Soul Music), Because of Love in 2001 (Heart and Soul Music) and Spirit & Truth in 2004 (Heart and Soul Music), as well as a large number of singles which include 1991’s For Crying Out Loud and Merry Go Round (Bookshop Records), along with 2004’s Peace (Heart and Soul Music). In 1992, Kelita recorded a duet with Bobby Lalonde called I Can’t Get Close Enough and in 1993, she and Terry Kelly paired up to sing We Can Do Anything, which was nominated for the 1994 CCMA Award for Vocal Collaboration.
Kelita’s performing career started on her parents’ farm outside Claresholm, Alberta, when the high-spirited singer longed to be Shirley Temple. “I saw every afternoon matinee. My mother used to dress me in frilly dresses and put ringlets in my hair”, she recalls. “At a very young age, it became obvious I had that spark to show off and perform. I’d entertain myself singing in the barn, up in the hayloft, pretending that was my stage. On summer evenings I’d sit on the fence under the yard light and pretend it was my spotlight”.
Kelita’s early dreams were also fed by the popular variety shows of the day hosted by favourites Ed Sullivan, Carol Burnett, Red Skelton and Tommy Hunter. “When I was five, my sister and I would get dressed up, put on high heels and then watch The Tommy Hunter Show. We’d dance by the TV”, she says with a smile.
Before she started school, Kelita’s first exposure to a musical instrument was in a nearby, abandoned house. “I had three brothers who found a way to get into the house. On the main floor was this old piano. It was a mess, covered with pigeon poop, but I’d go over to it and bang away. I told my mom about it and she came and took a look. She was into antiques, so she had it hauled out of there and cleaned up. It was from England, built in 1847. I still have it,” Kelita says fondly.
The piano she actually learned to play on at age nine was her grandmother’s. And it was instrumental in the writing of her first song, two years later, when her father died. “I can remember that day vividly”, she says. “The song just moved out of me. It was really special, like somebody had given me a wonderful gift.” Music was a mainstay in her life as she grew up, especially when tragedy struck again. “My mother died when I was fifteen. It was pretty rough. I wrote songs, prose and poetry to help explore my feelings”. Bright and feisty, Kelita was able to cope with her grief with the support of community and her church. “I was there five nights a week”, she remembers. “I was in the youth choir, the senior choir, the gospel band, I sang solos and I was in the youth group”.
In that setting, Kelita forged one of the most important friendships of her young life. “Do you remember the McGuire Sisters (the group had 17 Top 40 hits in the U.S. Between 1954 and 1961). Well, Dorothy went to my church. Her husband was the leader of the senior choir and her son played drums in the gospel band. They financed the first album I ever did and were a great encouragement to me.”
Instead of paying her dues by playing in a rock band, Kelita did the church circuit with a gospel band, known as The Love and Truth Company. “We went on tour when I was 16”, she says. “We played in six different states down the West Coast. It was an amazing experience. My first album was with that group, which had two of my own songs on it”.
After graduating from high school, Kelita moved to Toronto and studied drama at York University. Upon graduating, she scooped parts in “Gypsy” at the Port Dover Lighthouse Festival and “Godspell”, performed at Toronto’s Bayview Playhouse and Bathurst St. Theatre. Although Kelita enjoyed the theatre, she felt a deep longing to return to her music. “My songwriting was taking a back seat. I wasn’t able to express myself”, she explains. Passing on an opportunity to join Second City Comedy Troupe, Kelita decided to dive in and make her first album.
She and her first husband financed the self-titled recording and it was distributed by Boot Records in 1983. Tirelessly travelling across Canada, introducing herself to radio station programmers, Kelita made a lot of new friends. She soon had three Top 10 singles to her name, and was presented with the CCMA Vista Rising Star Award.
Kelita’s next album, Too Hot to Handle, came out three years later on RCA and the singles Too Hot To Handle, Saturday Night Dancing and I Need To Be Needed garnered extensive radio play.
Much to her delight, Kelita’s involvements allowed her to see new parts of the world. In 1988, she was featured on the Canadian Armed Forces and UN Summer and Christmas tours, visiting Israel, Egypt, Cyprus and Germany. “They were all incredible tours” Kelita recalls enthusiastically. “Seeing the world from a military view was very interesting. The audiences were so appreciative”.
Kelita’s life took a new turn when she met Gord Lemon (Kelita’s producer and co-writer) on her second UN tour. They were married and produced their greatest creation to date, their son Keldon. During that time, Kelita teamed up with Inuit recording artist Susan Aglukark to write Kathy I and the top 10 hit Breakin’ Down on Susan’s platinum selling album This Child.
But it’s Kelita’s personal work that definitely has her full attention. Her music has taken on the exuberant tones and textures of gospel and her lyrics now reach far beyond the surface. Kelita’s autobiographical ballads are heartbreaking in their honesty, yet uplifting and filled with a gently healing quality. Grappling with vulnerability, coping with a dysfunctional family and finally, finding strength in God.
In Kelita’s own words, “when I saw myself going in this direction a few years ago, I thought, am I wearing my heart too much on my sleeve? I wondered if people would be put off! But the exact opposite has happened. After a concert, people tell me how much they appreciate my transparency and honesty.” Kelita hopes the message in her songs will be an inspiration to others on her albums. “If you’re hurting, dealing with any kind of emotional pain the first thing you have to do is be honest with yourself. I’m not just performing, a lot more is happening. God is moving. I’m healing, and through my music I am encouraging my audience to let the healing begin in their own lives.”