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Behind Tiera Kennedy’s ‘Dream Collaboration’ with Beyoncé, Dolly Parton

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Tiera Kennedy’s voice can be heard on megastar Beyoncé’s eighth studio album, “Cowboy Carter,” which was released in March. (Provided)

By Sym Posey | The Birmingham Times

When asked about her dream music collaboration, rising singer-songwriter Tiera Kennedy would always respond, “Beyonce and Dolly Parton.” That dream has become a reality.

“Technically, I have collaborated with both now,” Kennedy told The Birmingham Times during a recent interview. “[Beyoncé gave] an up-and-coming artist like me such a massive opportunity, and I still cannot believe it has happened.”

Kennedy’s voice can be heard on megastar Beyoncé’s eighth studio album, “Cowboy Carter,” which was released in March. The Gardendale, Alabama, native is on two tracks: she is featured on “Blackbiird” and sings harmony on “Tyrant,” which features country-music icon Parton.

“Blackbiird” is a cover of The Beatles song “Blackbird,” featured on the legendary band’s “The Beatles,” also known as “The White Album”, which was recorded in 1968. Former Beatle Paul McCartney said in an Instagram post that he was, “happy” with the cover because “it reinforces the Civil Rights message” that inspired him to write the song. The famed singer, songwriter, and musician was motivated to write the song after witnessing the moment the Little Rock, Arkansas, schools decided to desegregate, as well as the experience of Black women of the Civil Rights Movement.

“I am honored to be part of it,” Kennedy said of her performance on Beyoncé’s rendition of “Blackbiird. “It is beautiful that she chose to do this cover on this album. When we recorded the song, I did not know the history behind it. To learn it later just made it so much more special. … I think the message I get behind this album is for us to just be more inclusive of all sounds, all music, and all backgrounds. Genre doesn’t really matter. Everyone’s welcome.”

Kennedy, 26, is not an overnight country music success. She wrote on Facebook, “I’ve been in Nashville for almost 8 years chasing this country music dream. There have been a lot of highs and lows along the way and this – being on Beyonce’s album takes the cake. I grew up listening to her music, practicing her runs over and over.”

She continued, “I couldn’t be more thankful. Thank you Beyoncé for shining your light. This album is so important. It will not only change the future of country music but music as a whole and I cannot wait to watch it unfold.”

Songwriting and Storytelling

Kennedy grew up in Gardendale, just a 15-minute drive north of Birmingham. At 13, she taught herself to play the guitar. She credits her singing voice to God, while crediting her country music “songwriting prowess to what organically flows from her pen.”

Kennedy has been singing since she was in elementary school, when she auditioned for the part of Ariel in a school production of “The Little Mermaid.” After graduating from Gardendale High School in 2016, Kennedy spent a year at the University of North Alabama, in Florence, Alabama, which is near Muscle Shoals, Alabama—home of the legendary FAME (Florence Alabama Music Enterprises) Studios, where renowned artists like Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, and others recorded hits. After her freshman year, Kennedy made the move to Nashville, Tennessee.

“The entire time I was in Birmingham, I was trying to get to Nashville, but I am so thankful for my squad in Birmingham,” she told The Times. “I started writing around the time I was in high school. … Songwriting influenced me to start country music. I always say country music found me. I did not find country music. Country music is all about storytelling, and that is what I was doing through my music. That is how I got into the genre.”

Kennedy’s participation in local talent shows and music festivals fostered her confidence in her songwriting. She recalled one particular show when she sang an original song for the first time.

“That motivated me to keep writing more music,” she said. “It was cool because up until that point, I’d only had the opinion of my parents, and you know they are going to say everything is good. … It was cool getting to perform that in front of my friends and get a positive response. It was more motivation for me to continue to write music.”

The time Kennedy spent between Alabama and Tennessee influenced her music and was the inspiration for her 2022 single, “Alabama Nights.”

“Nashville is vastly different, but I feel like I’ve been able to merge Nashville and my sound from home,” she said. “That’s kind of what you hear through my music.”

R&B Country

When she entered the country music scene at 16, Kennedy recalled feeling, “out of place in the pop and R&B genre.” She describes her sound as “R&B country.”

Growing up, she listened to mostly R&B music. “Sometimes my parents would play it a lot around the house. They would play [music from R&B artists like] Ashanti and Boyz II Men. It’s funny, growing up you never [think] the music your parents listen to is cool. I was very much that way, but they were on to something. It has influenced me in creating my own music.”

Her parents, Howell and Natasha Leftwich, really embraced her career, and that convinced them to move to Nashville with her, Kennedy said. On an episode of the podcast, “Get Real with Caroline Hobby,” she said, “[My parents] are very involved in my music career, and now they just get to enjoy the music. …They have been so supportive of my career from the very beginning. Their philosophy was like, ‘We’re going to let you try what you want to try.’ I fell on singing, and they full on supported me. … My parents packed up and moved to Nashville for me. A lot of parents wouldn’t do that.”

In 2018, Kennedy competed on USA Network’s TV show, “Real Country.” The music showcase features up-and-coming country talent who compete for a $100,000 prize, as well as to earn a spot to perform at the Stagecoach Music Festival, a country-music event held annually in Indio, California, and hone their performing, acting, and musicianship skills. Kennedy made it to the final rounds of “Real Country” and performed at Stagecoach in 2019.

While on “Real Country,” Kennedy was mentored by Shania Twain, known as the “Queen of Country Pop,” and had the opportunity to honor the Canadian-born singer-songwriter at the Academy of Country Music Honors in 2022. Kennedy also was featured in Country Music Television’s (CMT’s) Next Women of Country (NWOC) Class of 2020.

Her self-titled EP, “Tiera,” released in 2021, features a demo, “Found It in You,” a love song inspired by her relationship with her husband and creative director Kamren Kennedy. The couple got married in October 2021.

“We met in Birmingham, but he went to school in Nashville. We did long distance for a little bit, but we have always worked together. He is insanely talented in his own right, and its fun getting to collaborate. He has such a vision for everything that he does and for my music. There is nobody else in the world that I’d rather create with,” she told The Times.

“Found It in You,” was released again as Kennedy’s debut single in 2022, when she signed with Big Machine Label Group, a Nashville-based recording label that is home to several major country and pop artists. That same year, Kennedy made her first appearance at the Grand Ole Opry, which is considered to be the most famous stage in country music and has launched the careers of many of the genre’s biggest stars.

“[The Grand Ole Opry] is such a special stage in country music, and there is so much history on that stage,” Kennedy said. “So many artists I have looked up to have performed there, like [Parton], who performed on the Opry stage at 13. … I have performed a couple of times since then, and that is always a special place for me. I always say it is like the Disneyland of country music.”

Kennedy also hosts a daily country music radio show exclusively on Apple Music Country called “The Tiera Show,” during which she discusses the country music industry and interviews other country artists. The show can be heard Monday through Friday at 9 a.m.

Young, Black, and Country

As a young new Black artist in a predominantly white space, Kennedy has faced challenges.

“It is difficult for new artists in general,” she said. “I have been blessed to have some amazing champions in Nashville that have guided me along the way and given me opportunities. It is tough. I have had doors closed in my face, but I have also had people that have taken a chance on me.

“That is how I’ve gotten through: … by leaning on those champions and leaning on other [up-and-coming] artists that are going through the same thing. Sometimes it looks like we are on top of the world on social media, but at the end of the day we have our own struggles, and it’s helpful to talk to each other,” she said.

Kennedy’s new single, “I Ain’t a Cowgirl,” available on April 26, is a song she wrote as a motivator for herself. “I was going through a hard time when I wrote that song, and it got me through a lot. It still does to this day. I’m not a cowgirl, but I’m going to be one day, and I hope that it just motivates other people to know that you can get through whatever you are going through. If one person says no, that’s alright because there might be a yes around the corner. Believe in yourself and stick up for yourself. I hope that people get that message through this.”

Toward the end of this year, Kennedy plans to release her debut album. “I’ve been waiting a long time to do that, and I’m excited for people to hear this music and the story behind it,” she said.

Tiera Kennedy’s “I Ain’t a Cowgirl” will be available April 26 on all streaming platforms. “The Tiera Show” is available on Apple Music Country, Monday through Friday at 9 a.m.