Do you remember your early teen years, before you had a driver's permit, when it was a bitter struggle to convince a parent or older sibling to drive you somewhere? Kelly Sweet doesn't have those memoDo you remember your early teen years, before you had a driver's permit, when it was a bitter struggle to convince a parent or older sibling to drive you somewhere?
Kelly Sweet doesn't have those memories.
When the singer was barely 14, her mother rented out the house they shared in Kanab, Utah, and set out driving young Kelly all across America, looking for every performance opportunity for her daughter she could find.
The painter and her progeny focused most of their efforts on two cruel bastions of broken dreams, Los Angeles and Las Vegas. But in Kelly Sweet's case, the gamble in both places paid off.
During the two years mom and daughter spent on the road, the budding starlet nabbed a gig opening for Kenny Loggins when his tour came through Vegas and was booked to sing the national anthem on three separate occasions for Los Angeles Lakers games.
Sweet had been traveling a musical path from a much earlier age, though. She grew up in a creative home, her first seven years spent in the idyllic environs of Cape Cod, Mass. Her father was a jazz pianist and she was surrounded by music from birth. She recalls singing along to everything from Ella Fitzgerald and Nat King Cole to Whitney Houston, much of it at her father's side.
After her parents divorced, Sweet and her mother relocated to Kanab (population 5,000), but Sweet's interest in music didn't wane. She began classical training with a vocal coach at age 11 and by age 12 she was penning her first lyrics.
"Sting was a big influence on that side," Sweet says. "I learned a lot about writing from reading his lyrics. Paul Simon's, too."
The precocious vocalist was soon comfortable singing all sorts of styles, and never shied away from performing for audiences. This, combined with the freedom provided by home-schooling, made the road trip with her mom possible.
"I was very lucky," Sweet says. "My mom was so supportive. She put her own career on hold for what ended up being almost five years for me to get to where I am today" –- signed to Razor & Tie and cracking the top 20 on the Hot Adult Contemporary chart with her single "Raincoat."
Sweet's success on tour led to a meeting with Grammy-nominated producer/songwriter Mark Portmann (Josh Groban, Celine Dion). The two immediately began work on a recording, which Sweet, 18, says was an "amazing experience. All these influences had built up in me through the years, and I finally had a chance to let them out and see my vision come to life."
During the sessions, Bruce Berman of Valor Entertainment happened to be working on other things at Portmann's house when, he says, "I heard Kelly's voice. I immediately got goose bumps. She hit this one note that just took me to another place and I was completely captivated," he recalls. Berman eventually signed on as Sweet's manager.
The first major task the crew tackled was getting Sweet signed, which turned out to be a more pleasant undertaking than expected. "We had three major labels bidding for her," says Berman. But he and Sweet ultimately settled on the independent label, Razor & Tie, because, as Berman explains, "They put on paper their commitment to the long haul and to rolling out this album the way Kelly and I had envisioned."
Sweet concurs, adding that teaming with a smaller label means she has more opportunity for "creative freedom. I knew my voice would be heard."
The arrangement seems to be working for all interested parties. "Raincoat," a gentle, enchanting number about burgeoning hope, steadily climbed the AC tally for weeks. Her debut album, "We Are One," hit stores March 6.
Sweet says she hopes to fashion her career after Barbra Streisand's: "She's been around for a long time and has sung all different types of music. To me she represents a true artist."
As for her patient, road-tested mom, Sweet says, "She's thrilled. She's finally back in the house in Kanab, painting again."