Southern Miss alumna makes dream reality
Published: Tuesday, May 2, 2006
Updated: Sunday, May 17, 2009 19:05
Nan Kelley recently fulfilled her dream of becoming a host of the Grand Ole Opry.
Kelly received a bachelor's degree in communication from USM with an emphasis in radio and television in 1988.
"Having a degree brought me to full circle when I left Hattiesburg to sing in Nashville." Kelley said. "My first job as a performer was at Opry Land, and I toured with Bands Orchestra."
Kelley said she worked on music row as a country music producer, and for a long time she did not work in her major though she knew all along she wanted to get back to the area.
Kelley said she auditioned for a co-host position on TNN's Prime Time Country.
"It was my first job on television, and it was about 10 years after I graduated from USM," Kelley said. "That position gave me a spring unto the path of television, but unfortunately the show ended."
Kelley said she wanted to study television, and she took 10 years.
"It takes patience to work in my field, and I received one of the best educations on the planet. The first job may not start you at the top of the ladder, but once you get on the ladder of success you can only go up."
Kelley said a person has to be prepared to pick up and move where the work is like at a news station or a production company in New York. "It may not be the best paying job, but it could launch you to the next level," Kelley added.
Kelley said she loves country music, and she is a fan of the institution. She loves country music, and she always wanted to work on the Grand Ole Opry in any capacity on camera or off.
Kelley said the Grand Ole Opry is totally live, and it changes every few seconds, so she has to change with it.
Kelley added the Grand Ole Opry is the longest running live performance show in the world. Kelly said she will have to work around the people on stage, and the people in the audience will see the show on television.
"It is the most intense feeling, and I love my job." Kelley said.
Kelly studied at the Beverly Hills Playhouse in California. She did not have to pretend to have a Southern accent, so she fit in well for her part as a southern belle.
Nan Kelley's mother Gloria Sumrall said Kelley has performed since she was from a small child up into her college years and even competed in pageants; she is a people person. Sumrall said when Kelley was in Oak Grove High School, her English teacher said Kelley could fit in with anybody.
"Her personality just shines, and people are drawn to her," Sumrall added. "She was in the Miss Hattiesburg and Miss Mississippi pageant in 1984, and she might not be the most beautiful person on the stage, but people could see her radiant personality."
Kelley was a member of Tri-Delta sorority, and she always did a lot of community service work like participating in the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and she does a lot of volunteer work in Nashville too, Sumrall added.
Sumrall said her daughter has been on many television shows like the Grand Ole Opry, the Country Music Television top 20 countdown and My Mix from Great American Country.
Sumrall said Kelley interviewed the Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and it was an honor to meet the secretary in person. The secretary came to thank the Opry for its support of the troops through the America Supports You organization.
Sumrall said a satellite was linked to some of the troops in Iraq, and her daughter was able to talk with some of them.
"When Nan was in the Miss Mississippi pageant in the mid 1980s she toured with the USO and visit the troops" Sumrall said. "Nan continued to tour with the USO when she worked for TNN in the early 1990s."
Brian Blair, a pianist and a friend of Nan Kelley who knew her when she was competing in the Miss Hattiesburg pageant, said he meet Kelley in 1985 when she was in the Miss Hattiesburg pageant, and Blair was Kelley's director when she won Miss Hattiesburg at 19-years-old.
"After Susan Akins won Miss America, Nan moved up to Miss Mississippi, and there were only four other women from Mississippi to win the Miss America pageant," Blair added.
"I have known Kelley for 21 years, and she sang in the Hattiesburg pageant. She did not know that she could sing," Blair added. "She worked with a vocal coach named Mildred Hong, and she won the talent competition in the Miss Mississippi pageant. Nan was so surprised."
Blair said Kelley has a voice that can compete with country singers, and one day she hopes to compete with them. "Kelley has the vocal ability and personality to be the next big country star," Blair added.
Gene Wiggins, director of the graduate program at USM said he once had Nan Kelley in his class.
"Nan was an energetic young lady, and I remember her entering the Miss Mississippi pageant. She had to do some traveling, and she missed a couple of my classes," Wiggins added. "Nan had good communication skills, and she was comfortable with large groups of people."