Kara McKee (photo provided by Kara McKee)

A year and a half ago, Kara McKee quit her job in the corporate world to chase down her dream of being a full-time musician. After years of gigging at small clubs around New England, the daughter of RI Governor Dan McKee finally received some national attention when she appeared on NBC’s The Voice last summer and was selected to join Team John Legend.

I spoke to McKee over the holiday break as she was preparing to head to Nashville to work on a long-awaited studio recording. She’ll have some extra financial support to produce the upcoming EP thanks to a grant from Club Passim, the legendary Cambridge, MA music venue. McKee was a 2022 recipient of an award from the Iguana Music Fund, one of 22 musicians who received grants from $500 to $2000 for “career-building ventures and for projects that provide community service through music.” Over $38,000 was awarded in 2022.

“Club Passim is one of my favorite places in the world,” said McKee. “I grew up in Cumberland and lived in Boston for 15 years, so when I started writing music, I had the honor of playing Passim. I’ve played there quite a bit over the last six or seven years. It’s a legendary room, they treat everybody like family there. Throughout the pandemic, they were giving out grants to keep artists afloat.”

The award will support McKee’s effort to record an album in the coming months. “This project is the culmination and celebration of one full year of my life dedicated to music,” explained McKee. “I’m working on a four-song EP with three originals and one Joni Mitchell cover. The grant covers a good chunk of the production costs.”

McKee shared a little more about how she got to this point. “Last year, August 2021, I resigned from my corporate career to pursue music in a meaningful way. I told myself I would take one full year to follow the music wherever it led. Coming on the heels of 2020, this past year was what I needed to reinvigorate a true feeling of happiness and joy. Music and musical connections brought me back to life, and I’m never looking back,” she said.

“I spent 15 years working really hard on building a corporate career, I studied finance in college, and that was my #1 priority for a really long time. 2020 gave everyone a chance to reset and reflect and in that time, I did a lot of thinking about what a happy life looks like. For me, it’s one that prioritizes family and music. I resigned from my job with really no plan, I just chased down every opportunity that came up,” she added.

McKee is well aware of Newport’s musical heritage and previously performed on the Folk Festival’s open mic stage with her family band Rosemere Road. “The Newport festival is a Rhode Island gem,” she noted. “It’s such an honor to have that in our home state. I’ve gone (to the festival) every year for the past 12 years with the exception of 2022 when I was out in California filming for ‘The Voice.’ The festival has such a wonderful reputation; as you know they sell out immediately even before the lineup is announced. They get such extraordinary talent and I always discover new artists. During the weeks that the festivals are going on, it really feels like a different place, it feels like Nashville comes to Newport. I feel very inspired by it every year.”

Her appearance on NBC’s The Voice last summer certainly heightened her visibility. McKee sang a powerful version of the Joni Mitchell classic “Woodstock” which led to a quick chair turn from John Legend who gave the song his stamp of approval noting “she made the song her own.” It was an affirming experience for McKee, “that moment felt like right place, right time, right song. You’re in a moment where you feel like you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be,” said McKee.

What led to her selecting the iconic folk song? “It was important for me to sing a song that I believed in, and every single word of that song just makes sense. The arrangement was a blend of the original infusing some rock’n’roll elements. Next thing you know John Legend is kind of singing along with me.”

To hear more from Kara McKee, check out her official Instagram page here: https://www.instagram.com/karamckeeofficial/

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Ken Abrams

Lifestyle Editor Ken Abrams writes about music, the arts and more for What'sUpNewp. He is also a contributor to Providence Monthly, SO RI, Hey Rhody and The Bay magazines. Ken DJ's "The Kingston Coffeehouse,"...