Kate Campbell has done something few Baptists have done. She has sung for the Southern Baptist Convention, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the Baptist World Alliance.
Campbell, whose style is a Folk/Gospel mixed with Blues and Country, is the daughter of former SBC President Jim Henry, who was the longtime pastor of First Baptist Church of Orlando, Fla.
Like so many singers and songwriters, COVID slammed the door on those kind of public singing opportunities for two years. She’s thankful now to be back doing what she loves most and does best: Singing in front of live audiences of all sizes.
“I’m still kind of doing my thing,” she said in a recent interview. “I think the COVID years, as I like to call them, were very strange. As a musician, there was no live music. I mean, in person, you know, for essentially two years.”
Although she never had experienced depression, even keeping a routine during the toughest days of the pandemic wasn’t enough to stave off sadness, she explained. “The longer COVID went on, I thought, this must be what people who have depression have. I had my routine. I would go walking, I would go to the grocery store, do the stuff that I normally do. I wrote very little music. A lot of my friends went online; however, I’m not really into the online or technical type of stuff.”
Indeed, her style is built on personal connection and dialogue with those who hear her sing. She is a storyteller and a dispenser of gospel truth accompanied by guitar. She enjoys being in rooms with people who love listening to her.
She didn’t have to move to Nashville to be noticed as a singer; she graduated from high school there. In her teenage years, her father was pastor of Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville. And it was in Music City that her passion for music developed.
Before that, her family lived in Alabama and Mississippi during the height of the Civil Rights movement.
“I spent a lot of time with my dad,” she recalled. “My mother would pick me up and then take me down to the church to hang out after school. And of course, it was great, hanging out with my father and seeing him at work. I remember several times not only would I have to go to hospital visitation with him, I would also see him at work; he wrote everything down.
“My mother was very musical. Her side of the family is very musical, I like to tell people I got the music from my mother’s side, my mother is from Kentucky, and the word side of being a music writer from my father.”
In her teenager years in Nashville, “everybody was playing guitar,” she said. “I thought everybody wrote songs. I also was introduced to musical instruments growing up, being that my mother played the piano. Being introduced to music early on in my life helped set the stage of where I find myself today as a musician.”
Campbell left Nashville to attend Samford University in Birmingham, Ala. “Samford ended up being a great place for me,” she said. She later earned a master’s degree in history from Auburn University.
In Alabama, as in Tennessee and Mississippi, she was exposed to American history and the fight for civil rights in the 1960s and ’70s.
She gets her passion for history and civil rights from her dad, she said, and found it natural to set those stories to music.
“My dad would take me to hear pastors like Manuel Scott,” a great civil rights orator. She remembers singing at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, playing in front of former President Jimmy Carter.
“I had my Bible signed by him as governor at an event he was at and then as president at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, which looking back was a very emotional event to have played at.”
Her songs weave together the stories of faith and social action she experienced as a child and an adult, along with the stories of others who had front-row seats to the movement.
Growing up as a pastor’s kid was not a burden for her, she said. “Some old preacher gave (my parents) some wise advice early on when they were attending seminary in New Orleans. It went something like, “You know, church people, you need to discipline your children, but don’t let church people discipline your kids. And for my parents that advice stuck.”
Over the years, Campbell and her father have landed on different paths in Baptist life. She attends a CBF church, and her father remains a revered statesman in the SBC. But their relationship is strong.
“I love my father; he is the real deal and loves everyone around him,” she said. “We’ve even ministered together in churches before.”
She loves her dad and what he stands for and refers to him as a “compassionate conservative.”
Her mother, Jeanette Henry, and her paternal grandmother, Kathryn Henry, died five days apart in 2019. Her mother battled dementia for several years, and Campbell says she watched her mother “fade away” with the disease.
Family remains important to her life and career. She is thankful for her husband, who has been a supporter of her dream all along, and her father-in-law, who provided the financial investment that got her started.
She’s also thankful for her audience, who keeps wanting more of what she is offering. Now, she hopes to keep singing in rooms with people in them.