Artist Highlight – Frankye Kelly

Frankye Kelly – photography Jim Dennis 

“Music makes people feel! That’s what it’s all about.”
— Frankye Kelly 

When people hear Frankye Kelly sing – they understand first hand what a true Diva is all about. Listening to her perform makes you feel like you are in the presence of true greatness. Her passion and sweetness comes across in some songs, her passion and strength in others and at all times it is performed with true class. 

It was obvious from an early age that Frankye Kelly would be a singer. Living in Jackson, Mississippi for a few years with her grandparents, she remembers performing in a play when she was just three. Since her father was in the Air Force, her childhood was spent living in many different locations including California, Minnesota, Germany and Delaware and back to California. She heard the music of Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Sarah Vaughan along the way as well as Fats Domino and Little Richard although most of her early singing was in church, acapella groups and choirs. She got married very young and devoted herself to her children until they were grown. 

After her children were grown Frankye Kelly decided to start performing jazz. At a family reunion Frankye received important guidance from her cousin, the late great blues master Albert Collins, click to see U-tube Albert Collins famous “Iceman” performance. The main thing Albert told her is that it is up to her to please and reach her audience, and he told her to always sing what she felt. He flew Frankye Kelly to a lot of his concerts to have her experience life of a musician and to see what is was like. She saw how hard he worked and was inspired.

Nine years after Frankye had moved to San Francisco, in 1989, Frankye Kelly pursued her dream of being a jazz singer. She explained: “I wanted to sing jazz because of its freedom and because that way I could express myself the way I wanted. I studied jazz not only to learn the music but to learn about myself. I didn’t want to listen too closely to singers because I didn’t want to copy anyone, so instead I listened constantly to Miles Davis. I always loved the way he played. He would take his time, not rushing into it, and he played with a lot of feeling.” 

Frankye has recorded three CDs: The Night is Young was recorded at Kimball’s West and showed those at the time who were unfamiliar with her just how talented a jazz singer she is, serving as a strong introduction. My Life, More Than It Is: Not Just the Blues is an appealing mixture of pop, blues, R&B and jazz, displaying a great deal of variety but staying consistently rewarding. Her most recent CD, Live at Yoshi’s, Frankye Kelly Sings Songs For My Father, was recorded on several occasions at Yoshi’s Jazz House, and is a collection of some of her favorite jazz songs. It is dedicated to her father who was at all of the sessions and has since passed away.

Frankye Kelly will be leaving for Thailand for a four month tour next month. We are fortunate to have this living legend chose the Bay Area as her home. In 2006, Frankye Kelly spent six months singing in China, performing in Shanghai during a pair of lengthy visits. She regularly performs in France, Mexico, Japan and China and throughout the US. She has sung at many jazz festivals including the San Francisco Jazz Festival, the San Jose Jazz Festival and the Fillmore Jazz Festival. Frankye Kelly has performed in the Bay Area at Yoshi’s, “Top of the Mark” at the Mark Hopkins Hotel (with pop superstar Ricardo Scales), Jazz at Pearl’s, Kimball’s East, Kimball’s West and at the Ritz Carlton Hotels.

Frankye Kelly is a busy woman aside of touring and performing locally, she teaches Jazz workshops in Napa, CA and France, spends time with young girls in the community, hosts a TV show “Jazz with Frankye” now in its 10th season, watch her interview with another Bay Area Great – Wayne Wallace. 

Frankye Kelly often performs at the prestigious JAZZschool in Berkeley, CA.