Sonny Kenner: Kansas City Royalty

by Phavia Kujichagulia

Clarence "Sonny" Kenner is a first class guitarist whose
classic reputation precedes him. He is the definitive Kansas City born quality artist, as famous at the town of his birth. Sonny Kenner exudes pure brilliance on his guitar, gliding between eclectic cadences and countless chords while coloring soulful images of hypnotic ecstacy with his velvet voice. All who know him lovingly call him Sonny because he was named after his mother's favorite song "Sonny Boy." In spite of his fame and fortune, Sonny is a gentle caramel gentleman and an unpretentious musical genius of monumental proportions.
Sonny Kenner
Journey agent, Sonny Kenner has performed world wide,
including New York's Apollo Theater, San Francisco's Bop City, the Los Angeles Hollywood Bowl and the Switzerland Jazz Festival. Here in Kansas City he performs regularly at the Liberty Jazz Festival, Juneteenth Festivals and the Historic 18th & Vine Jazz Festival. Mr. Kenner is a true seasoned veteran of his profession. He has appeared on the Bob Hope TV Show, the Jerry Lewis Show and the Steve Allen Show. Sonny has even hosted his own TV show, "The Sunny Side Of the Street."

If you aren't fortunate enough to be familiar with the man,
the artist, Sonny Kenner himself, then surely you are familiar with the multitude of outstanding musician he has performed with: Quincy Jones, Roy Ayres, Big Toe Turner, Little Richard, James Brown, Earl Bostic, Jimmy Witherspoon, Ester Phillips, Mead Lux Lewis, Mahalia Jackson, Sam Cooke and the Ink Spots to name a few. This noble list of music royalty alone gives you some idea of Sonny's boundless versatility and consummate musical professionalism.

Sonny's band is exceptional and enticing. They are a comfortable, casual tight unit. Their music transports listeners in and out of a euphonic trance from Jazz and Blues to R&B and Pop. Everyone in the group sings, either lead or background vocals, with the ability to make each song uniquely their own. Their voices and phrasings are clean and clear. Pure pleasure, drummer Dwight Jenkins is a trap technician, capable of creating and complimenting any mood with just a bass drum, snare drum, high hat, ride and crash cymbals.

Sonny Kenner's forty years of professional performance began at age fourteen. From birth it seems that music was Sonny Kenner's destiny. He was born into a family of musicians. His mother was a pianist and his father played trumpet in Count Basie's Band. He was even born just one block away from the Mutual Musicians Foundation in Kansas City's now historic 18th and Vine District. Sonny formed his first group, The Five Aces, at the tender age of fifteen. "We played in clubs and were paid $10. The whole band would have to split that $10," he chuckles. He would later play with Kansas City's first son of the saxophone, Charlie Parker. His fondest memory, however, is sitting in with Louis Armstrong. "I was very scared. My father was playing with Louis and the band called me up
to sit in." Joy beams from his noble face as he eminisces.

During the 1950s Sonny formed a band overseas while in the
military. "My C.O. heard me play one afternoon," he laughs. "He liked what he heard and the band was born. It was called the European Jazz Quartet." Sonny eventually moved to Los Angeles in 1959 for studio work where he played with the Crusaders. He ultimately became good friends with comedian Red Foxx, hanging out together after shows and going to parties.

"The band toured everywhere, but we couldn't stay in the
hotels." Sonny recalls playing through the era of segregation,
performing for audiences the band was unable to sit with or talk
to. He remembers being pulled over by the police on occasion." As we all know, whether we admit it or not, racial profiling still hasn't subsided here in the land of the free. "We all had processed hair. That was the style back then. We did what we had to do." Maybe that's why Sonny Kenner was the first African-American to open Kansas City's first Black book store, the Pyramid Book Store and Record Shop.

Sonny is also a scholar, teacher and family man. He has seven
children, two play guitar and his wife, Sarah Kenner, sings in his band. The phenomenal talent Sonny surrounds himself with is unparalleled. His band plays as one cohesive unity, swinging
effortlessly between melodic serenity to impassioned intensity.
Authentic interpretations and highly rhythmic complexities define the depths of this groups musical marriage.

As a producer, Sonny has recorded two impressive CDs. His
debut recording, on Bliss Records, 1996, is titled Never Give Up On Love. Wife Sarah sings lead vocals and his son, Amir Kenner, age fourteen, raps with his group, K.C. Boyz, on the release. Dwight Jenkins and Laverne Baker also sing lead vocals. Andre Hampton and Laverne Baker play bass as Mike Thomas covers the chords on piano, keyboard and organ. This CD contains some classics - Watermelon Man, Everything Must Change and Stop, Look & Listen - along with some of Sonny's brilliantly executed originals. Sonny's second release, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow is also available on Bliss Records. Sonny assembles a wide variety of remarkable artists on this recording, including Khalil Ahmad on saxophone, Ronnie Brown on trumpet, Chico Battagolia on congas, and Stan Banks conjures the muse with his poetry. A next CD titled For The Millennium, is scheduled for release in 2000.

Funky, jazzy, bluesy and free, guitarist, composer, producer,
band leader and elder statesman, Sonny Kenner is a mighty mainstay in the world of Blues, Jazz and R&B. He even excels in Rock, Gospel, Country Western, Reggae and European Classical Music. In addition, Sonny Kenner is continually giving back to the community, teaching guitar at Penn Valley College and lecturing throughout Kansas City's School District. His generous personality is as grand and glorious as his music; Sonny Kenner, truly Kansas City royalty.

by Phavia Kujichagulia

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