Out of the Darkness
Since the early days of the Jesus movement, Kelly Willard has been a part of Christian music, recording with many of names associated with the pioneers of CCM before releasing her 1978 debut at the age of 21. With nine albums to her credit, Willard has also been featured on more than two dozen worship projects from Integrity Hosanna!, Vineyard, and Maranatha! Music. Now with the release of her new CD Paga, Willard is finally back on the scene, though she's never been totally absent. She spoke to us from her Florida home about the things occupying her time for the last 15 years: her family, her recording career, her ministry, and a series of tragedies in 2004.
Your last album was in 1990. What have you been up to all these years?
Kelly Willard It was a priority to be home with my husband and children, since I home-schooled both children. And although I stopped recording my own albums and touring to raise my children, I didn't stop working in Christian music. I lived in Nashville, so I continued to do session work. I've done background vocals for artists, and I've done solos on praise-and-worship albums. I've always followed what was going on in Christian music, and I've continued to do as much music as I could.
It sounds like life has been busy.
Willard Very busy. My mother had Alzheimer's, so we took her in and cared for her for ten years. I was responsible for her health while my children were growing up. I was home-schooling and doing studio session singing while caring for my mother. I haven't done much since 2004 because of what life has been like since then.
What happened that year?
Willard It was the worst year of my life. On Valentine's Day, my father died of pulmonary fibrosis.
Later, in March, my 29-year marriage fell apart. I worked so hard on the marriage, even going to counseling. But the marriage fell out from under me because the spiritual foundation of the home fell short. My parents were divorced when I was 13, and I said I'd never divorce. It was so traumatic, because my marriage and family were my life. It's been hard for me to accept.
Then my 18-year-old daughter Haylie fell through the cracks—on August 29, she committed suicide. She had severe depression and she stopped taking her medication. The divorce was a huge factor in her death. It's the saddest thing ever. Whenever I sang locally in Nashville, Haylie would sing with me, and my son Bryan would play bass. She wrote songs and loved the Lord. Too much sadness just overcame her.
And in October, my mother died from Alzheimer's. So, it really was the worst year ever for me.
Did you struggle with feelings of failure during this time?
Willard Totally and completely. For your child to check out of life is just horrific. It's unthinkable, unspeakable pain.
Does depression run in your family, since it is usually a hereditary illness?
Willard Yes. In 1987, when we had just released Message from a King, my fourth album, I was diagnosed with manic-depressive illness. The medication back then affected me badly, so I stopped taking it. In 2002, the diagnosis was reconfirmed, but with a new name: bipolar disorder. I got on a newer medication and it has worked well. It helped me get through the trauma of the last few years. I believe my mother also had bipolar disorder, but it went undiagnosed.
How did your son handle everything?
Willard Bryan was out of the house already. He had gotten an apartment when he was 18 with his friend Phil LaRue and a couple other guys—he played bass with the group LaRue. Then he began to court his wife Liz and they married. So they now live in Nashville and have a daughter Ariel. He's 24 now and such a strong Christian—a singer, writer, and worship leader, traveling and playing bass for Jason Upton's band.