Probably one of the most notable duos of our generation is The Kendalls. The tight, naturally harmonic blend of family created by father Royce and daughter Jeannie was the cornerstone of their brand. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find another mainstream father-daughter duo as successful, or at all…which added to their appeal.
Both born and raised in St. Louis, MO, Royce’s interest in music started early. In the late 50s, as a young man, he formed a group called the Austin Brothers and moved his family to Los Angeles to pursue a music career. It was during this time that he taught his daughter, Jeannie, to sing. After a few years, however, he returned to St. Louis to set up his own barbershop.
When Jeannie turned 15, she and her father teamed up; Jeannie sang lead on most of the duo’s material and Royce typically double-tracked his harmony vocals behind her. More grounded in country tradition than many of their contemporaries, with elements of bluegrass, honky-tonk, and country gospel in their music, the duo began selling tapes via mail order. It wasn’t long until they were discovered by producer Pete Drake, who signed them to Stop Records. The Kendalls released their first charting single with the small label, a 1970 cover of “Leaving on a Jet Plane” which climbed to #52 on the charts.
Subsequently, The Kendalls moved to Nashville, signing with Dot in 1972, releasing an album and two singles over the next five years with lackluster success. In 1977, they signed with the independent Ovation label, and released a Kitty Wells cover, “Making Believe.” While the single charted, it was largely overlooked due to the same cover song being released by Emmylou Harris at the same time.
The Kendalls second single, however, found its mark. In 1977, they released “Heaven’s Just a Sin Away.” The single was not only was the duo’s breakthrough hit, but it propelled them to the top of the country music charts and earned them a Grammy for Best Country Vocal by a Duo or Group.
The duo would rack up a slew of top-ten hits through the mid-’80s, including “It Don’t Feel Like Sinnin’ to Me,” “Pittsburgh Stealers,” Sweet Desire” (which also hit #1), and “I Had a Lovely Time,” just to name a few. In 1981, when Ovation shut its doors, they moved to Mercury and scored more hits, including “Teach Me to Cheat,” “You’d Make an Angel Wanna Cheat,” and another chart-topper, “Thank God for the Radio.”
The Kendalls’ last Top-20 hits were in 1984 and 1985 with “My Babys Gone” and “I’ll Dance Every Dance with You,” respectively. In 1985. In 1986 they had three more minor hits on MCA Records, and several with Step One Records in 1987. They charted their last single as a duo, “Blue, Blue Day” with Epic Records in 1989.
The Kendalls continued to tour, and erected a supper club in Gulf Shores, Ala., where they performed nightly for two years before shuttering the venue and taking up residency in Branson, MO., where they built homes next door to one another. They released several additional CDs and were on tour when Royce Kendall died of a stroke.
Today, Jeannie continues to tour and uphold The Kendalls’ legacy. Since her father’s passing, Jeannie released two solo albums: one in 2003–an acoustic/bluegrass project on Rounder that she and her father had started together; and “All the Girls I Am,” which was released in 2005 on Golden.