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Cletus Kennelly

Cletus Kennelly is an 11-time WAMMIE-winning singer, songwriter, and recording studio engineer/producer. Wammies (Washington Area Music Association Awards) include BEST NEW ARTIST, SONGWRITER OF THE YEAR, BEST CONTEMPORARY FOLK VOCALIST (five times), BEST CONTEMPORARY FOLK DUO/GROUP (three times) and BEST CONTEMPORARY FOLK RECORDING.

His eclectic music incorporates contemporary urban folk with elements of melodic pop and alternative rock. He accompanies his clear, passionate vocals with both the power and the delicacy of his 12-string guitar. His songs create vivid character portraits as they explore the gamut of human emotions, while using phonetic phrasing and word-play to accompany his rhythmic and percussive style of guitar playing.

Cletus’ songs are highly crafted, alert and contemplative. He has been nominated for 32 WAMMIE Awards and has earned 36 songwriting awards, including a 1st Place Award in the 2004 Mid-Atlantic Song Contest, and 2nd Place Awards in the 1997, 1999, and 2001 Mid-Atlantic Song Contests, 3rd Place Awards in the 1998, 2000, and 2002 Mid-Atlantic Song Contests, and a 4th Place Award in the 1995 Louisville Area Songwriter Competition. The range of categories in which he has received awards (Folk, Pop, Modern/Alternative, Adult Contemporary, and Rock) displays the stylistic breadth of his music. He is also honored to have been selected to perform at Washington DC’s Kennedy Center Millennium Stage.


After success as a songwriter, Cletus began working with guitar legend Pete Kennedy, releasing a self- titled seven-song recording . He then followed up with his debut CD "Thread", which along with Pete Kennedy was produced by Washington Area Producer of the Year Marco Delmar. The CD features some of the D.C. area’s finest musicians, including Pete and Maura Kennedy, Lea, Morgan Rowe, Rick Engdahl, Ray Ruskin, and drummer Tamir Eid (of the band Emmet Swimming). Five songs from the CD, nearly half of the recording, have received awards in the Mid-Atlantic Song Contest. The CD itself garnered three WAMMIE nominations, including BEST DEBUT RECORDING and BEST CONTEMPORARY FOLK RECORDING. After the 9-11 tragedy, Cletus, wrote the song "Looking Up", which was nominated for a WAMMIE Award for SONG OF THE YEAR, and was released on a two-song 9/11 Fund benefit CD.

Cletus joined fellow former solo artist Lori Kelley in forming the suo Cletus & Lori. They were honored with several Wammies, including BEST CONTEMPORARY FOLK DUO/GROUP three times. Their CD The Very Same Sky won the WAMMIE for BEST CONTEMPORARY FOLK RECORDING.

Ray Ruskin of the Kensington Coffee House Concert Series, remarks, "What makes Cletus great is Cletus. He has a way of connecting to the audience directly, and the rich quality of his voice is so effective, he doesn’t need a band behind him. That he has such a good one [on the CD] is a bonus." Chris Slattery of the Gazette Newspapers writes, "Cletus Kennelly has a way with words. [He] takes only the finest words--the most honest and expressive. He painstakingly crafts them into finely wrought phrases, and coaxes them into verse." "[He] is able to pan for nuggets of lyrical gold." Cliff Johns of the Old Town Crier describes Cletus as "a powerful artist", and the CD as "genre-crossing music of great power" and "a strong, emotionally engaging record!" "’Thread’ will wake up the listener; it is truly worthy of your attention." Says Eric Brace of the Washington Post, "Cletus Kennelly wields a mean 12-string acoustic and writes a moving tune…the earnest and true kind."


After earning a degree in Psychology, Cletus joined a volunteer service program in Arizona where he worked with "at risk" youths and their families, and also worked at a homeless shelter. He went on to work as a mental health counselor, high school Ethics/Social Justice teacher, and as a carpenter, while also developing as a singer, songwriter, and guitar player, performing at coffeehouses, clubs, shelters, and benefit concerts. Eventually, Cletus returned to his hometown of Washington, DC to dedicate himself to songwriting, performing, and working as a recording studio producer/engineer at Urban Garden Recording Studio.