Sought-After Singer Makes Weddings Unforgettable

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By many accounts, Kenney Holmes is one of the most prominent wedding singers in the Washington, D.C. area. He talks with host Michel Martin about how he built his A-list profile as a soloist and offers tips on how to make wedding receptions unforgettable. Holmes is the subject of a recent profile by writer Lauren Wilcox in The Washington Post Magazine.


I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up, as more and more jurisdictions legalize marijuana for medical use, you might wonder: Where does it come from? Well, somebody has to grow it. So, we talk to the man who has written the unofficial bible on how to grow cannabis. For years, he has refused to be photographed or use his real name, but now he has decided to come out of the shadows and he will tell us why in just a few minutes.

But first, we open up the pages of The Washington Post Magazine, which we do just about every week for interesting stories, about the way we live now -maybe because Valentine's Day is almost here that we're thinking about love and after love for many, anyway, comes marriage and with marriage comes the wedding singer.

(Soundbite of song, "Hello")

Mr. KENNEY HOLMES (Singer, Showbiz): (Singing) Hello, is it me you're looking for? I can see it in your eyes. I can see it in your smile. You're all I've ever wanted, my arms are open wide. How can I win your love, see I haven't got a clue, but I want to tell you darling, I love you.

MARTIN: That is Kenny Holmes, and he leads the band, Showbiz, and they happen to be one of the hottest wedding bands in the Washington, D.C. area. How he got there is the subject of this week's Post Magazine. And he is with us now to tell us his secrets for making a wedding reception come alive. Welcome. Thank you for joining us.

Mr. HOLMES: And thank you for having me.

MARTIN: So, I read in the piece that you grew up in Long Island, but you ended up in the Washington, D.C. area. As I understand it, you were visiting your brother in the D.C. area, and you were quoted as saying I was standing on Georgia Avenue, when I saw a black man driving down the street in a Rolls Royce. And Holmes said, now I'm a simple thinker. I thought I've never seen that in New York City. And so you sold your house and moved down here. Now, you know, they're not selling those. They're not just handing those out, you know, so.

Mr. HOLMES: Well, I've worked very hard, I still don't have one.

MARTIN: That is hard work. One of the things that the piece makes clear is that it is not easy.

Mr. HOLMES: It's not.

MARTIN: It is not easy. What are some of the things that you have to do?

Mr. HOLMES: Well, Lauren, the writer, she was so surprised, because she came to my home. We'd leave about one o'clock in the afternoon to start at five, and get back at three in the morning. And she was so surprised at what I had to do to get things done. I learned as a young - very young man, you can't assure success unless you're directly in charge. So, that's what I had to be, directly in charge. So, I was everywhere in everything for about 10 hours for a two-hour wedding.

MARTIN: And you're very strict about time. People need to show up on time

Mr. HOLMES: Oh my, yes.

MARTIN: people in your band.

Mr. HOLMES: Well, you know, my band members have named me, behind my back, the Ayatollah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HOLMES: And it's fine because you get one wedding. It's got to be right. These people have paid a lot of money. There's been a lot of sweat. And if you've ever met a bridezilla, I mean you don't want to mess with her on her wedding day.

MARTIN: You know, some people won't do weddings because of that. They think it's too much stress. How come you think you can handle it?

Mr. HOLMES: I do it through love. It's better if I meet the people. A lot of times, my brides and grooms will come out to my house especially in the spring. I love to barbecue. They'll sit down on the deck and barbecue, and we'll have a chat, and I'll get to know them. The purpose of getting to knowing them is that I'll know really what they want. A lot of people think they know what they want until they sit and have a professional distill it for them.

Like people will come to me and say I want a jazz wedding. If I play the jazz wedding, their parents would ring their necks, you know. People will say, well, I want to pick the music, and they'll say, we don't want a female singer, and they'll pick all female songs. So, I would like to work with my brides and the grooms. I get to work with the grooms a little bit more at the end because the groom is usually paying for the band and somehow we get it to work. But I do a lot of listening.

MARTIN: A lot of psychology involved, it seems to me.

Mr. HOLMES: It's a wedding. This is a girl's biggest day. And I have two daughters. So, I love girls. I love them.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: And you want to make them happy.

Mr. HOLMES: I do. And it's a wonderful thing to see a bride glow.

MARTIN: But you also - how can I put this nicely - it takes a toll on your own relationships, let's say.

Mr. HOLMES: It has, yeah.


Mr. HOLMES: One, you know, I was thinking about this: nobody in my family has seen what I do in the last 20 years. They're not invited...

MARTIN: They're not invited?

Mr. HOLMES: so they haven't seen how I shine, nor has my wives - well, wife.

MARTIN: Well, I guess, to that point that you've had more than one wedding yourself.

Mr. HOLMES: Right. I've been married a few times.

MARTIN: A few times yeah. And why do you think that is?

Mr. HOLMES: Well, possibly because they're not a part of what I do. They've never been to my office. Another thing is I leave early and come in late. I had a wife who actually worked in the Clinton administration. She'd work 80 hours a week. I would leave, you know, leave on a Saturday morning, come back Saturday night with more money than her. And that takes a toll.

MARTIN: Well, you also said, you know, you leave out of the house in the middle of the afternoon, you come back in the middle of the morning, you know, sometimes you have lipstick on your collar, not because you're doing anything wrong, but just the hours itself kind of are hard for people to take, hard on relationship.

Mr. HOLMES: That's true, and probably the lipstick was from the bride's mom.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HOLMES: You know. There's nothing glamorous about what I do really.

MARTIN: I don't know, it depends on who the bride's mom is, but that's another - we won't go there - but the other thing that is apparently one of the keys to your success is your versatility. You play a lot of Jewish weddings, even though you're not Jewish. You're actually African-American, right?

Mr. HOLMES: I try to be.

MARTIN: You try to be. And you've learned to do some of your numbers with Hebrew lyrics, is that right?

Mr. HOLMES: Yeah.

MARTIN: How do you do that?

Mr. HOLMES: Well, it was a necessity in doing Jewish weddings. Just like if I meet a guy from Afghanistan, I'm not going to call him George. I'm going to use his name. I'm going to try to pronounce his name just to give him respect. You know, it's funny, we did a video and all the Jewish guys were in the bathroom just rolling because at how bad we sang in Yiddish. So, I looked and said, now, you know, what it sounds like when you guys try to sing the blues.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: That's cold.

Mr. HOLMES: But it's so true, you know. And, you know, what else, when I do "Hava Nagila" it always hurts my voice. But I'd rather do that than not do it. It's important that we do their traditions.

MARTIN: Do people appreciate it? I assume that they do. They keep hiring you.

Mr. HOLMES: Yeah they do. It's funny on the Greco wedding, Bonnie(ph), the bride said, can you do a hora? So I said, yeah, I can do a hora. I'll do in Yiddish. She laughs and said, I'll pay good money for that. I said you did.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: So, give us some of the secrets of the trade. You know, there's always that wedding where people are kind of looking at each other, and you're kind of like oh my goodness, and then there are the ones where everybody has a good time. What's the difference? What's the secret to having one of those receptions where everybody walks away saying I had a great time.

Mr. HOLMES: Well, timing is everything. When I do a wedding, I not only play the wedding, I'm the MC. I have to work with the caterer, the florist, the planner, and the bride and groom, and the bridal party. I have to coordinate all of that. I start by taking a bridal survey. I want to know everything about you. I did a wedding one time where the bride's father and mother were going through a very nasty divorce, and I said well the bride's mother and the bride's father will now dance.

MARTIN: Oh no.

Mr. HOLMES: It was nasty.

MARTIN: You learned your lesson.

Mr. HOLMES: I learned the lesson early on. So, I take a survey. I work with everybody. I coordinate with everybody. I stop what I am doing and go say, you're going to do this now. And that's where it starts. Then after the dessert is served, we'll usually take a break right before dessert is over. After dessert is served, it's time to dance. I will usually do ballroom dancing because the older people will get up first. "Unchained Melody," if a married man is in that room and doesn't dance to "Unchained Melody," he will have a rough time for the rest of the year.

(Soundbite of laughter)



Mr. HOLMES: Exactly. So, you know, you have the - you know, you have a guy who hasn't been in a suit in 15 years and his wife has got this blue chiffon dress that she hasn't worn in a long time, but they're going to get up there and dance to that song. The next one we'll do something a little more popular, thus allowing the young people to get to the bar. Once they get a few drinks in them, then it's time to party.

MARTIN: Then it's time to kick it up a notch.

Mr. HOLMES: And what we do is we put them - what I call a freight train. We put them up on the train and we rock the train and we go faster and faster and faster to the end of the night, I'm saying, go home.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HOLMES: It's over.

MARTIN: That's a successful reception.

Mr. HOLMES: It sure is.

MARTIN: Well, I understand though that - I think it's no secret that, you know, the unemployment numbers just came out again on Friday and all that shows that there has been some improvement in the job situation. But the recession has to have taken a toll on your business. How big of a hit do you think you have taken?

Mr. HOLMES: I'll put it this way: I've been a very blessed musician and a very good businessman through most of my life. I work without a safety net. So, I have to be wise in my business dealings and I would say that I've taken at least a 50 percent hit. However my 50 percent hit is better than most guys around here walking.

MARTIN: Well, just give me some numbers that like maybe two years ago, how many weddings do you think or events overall do you think you did versus how many you did last year? Let's say '08 versus '09.

Mr. HOLMES: I would say I've diminished 50 percent.


Mr. HOLMES: However, my weddings that I do book are higher dollar weddings. I just - you know, this is probably - the last year was probably the worst year. This year, I've gotten - I just booked the highest paid night of this band's history.

MARTIN: For this year, for a - it's a wedding?

Mr. HOLMES: Yes.

MARTIN: Not a convention event?

Mr. HOLMES: It's a convention.

MARTIN: It's a convention.

Mr. HOLMES: We do celebrations, we not only do weddings. We do conventions. We do corporate events, parties

MARTIN: So, somebody is spending money. Somebody has got some money.

Mr. HOLMES: The corporations used to have money a while back.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: So, what's your favorite - is there a favorite song that you have to play? I understand that it's kind of a process and you want to tailor event to the people who are going to be attending in. So, is there just a song that you don't feel - if you don't play that song, you have not had a good evening?

Mr. HOLMES: Oh. For the old people, it's "My Way," the longest, most -probably, the most hideous song I know. But in order to fill up that floor and, you know, the bride's father, that was fabulous.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Okay, okay. And, of course, inquiring minds want to know: how was the music at your weddings? You've had a couple, how was it, was the music good your weddings, your several weddings?

Mr. HOLMES: That's difficult because I'm sure that people who played my weddings are listening. The music was adequate and it was good. The wedding -the marriages were not.


(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Let's hope this one

Mr. HOLMES: But to be honest, I learned something from each one of those ladies and they are wonderful people.

MARTIN: Okay. Let's - yeah. Let's make sure that's established, okay. So, finally I don't know what you - if you ever keep up with your couples after they have been married, if you ever hear from them, I just sort of wonder - do you think, based on all your experiences, can you sort of predict who is going to make it and who is not?

Mr. HOLMES: No, even though I do give a wedding guarantee. And that guarantee is if I play your weeding, you'll always be happy, you always have good memories and your husband will do as you tell him.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HOLMES: Doesn't have a lot to do with the wedding. It has a lot to do with the marriage.

MARTIN: Kenney Holmes is leader of the band, ShowBiz. It is - as he tells us -one of the most popular wedding bands - special event bands in the Washington, D.C. area.

Mr. HOLMES: We play celebrations.

MARTIN: Lauren Wilcox wrote about Kenney Holmes and his band in this week's Washington Post Magazine. We'll have a link for you on our Web site. Just go to and click on TELL ME MORE. Kenney, thank you.

Mr. HOLMES: Thank you.

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