Pretty Kenny (Kenneth E. Johnson), a native of Oakland, CA, began performing at the age of five when his grandfather would have him dance for patrons outside The Shalamar- a once popular blues club located in North Oakland. However, his artistic and musical influences were shaped by his parents, Beverly and Earl- both of Southern heritage (New Orleans and Texas). Beverly’s background in theater and stage performance, and Earl’s love of the artistry of the blues and James Brown led to Kenny’s appreciation for various musical genres and taking lessons singing and playing the drums and piano, as well as performing at talent shows and small stage productions by age seven. “My mother and fathers’ love for the arts is the foundation for what this current venture in my life is all about,” states Johnson. “I’ve lived the life of a blues man and now I just want to share those stories and tales through my music.”
The genesis of the Pretty Kenny persona, the player/pimp swagger of an Oakland ladies man, first developed when Johnson was in high school as a member of the SEXY DANCERS - an extremely popular dance troupe in the early 1980s. The group performed dazzling and intricate group and individual routines to R&B and Hip Hop music. Some of their more memorable performances occurred during halftime of professional and high school basketball games at the Oakland Coliseum. Following high school, Johnson entered the military where he also formed at rap group, B.F.B. (Brothers For Brothers), with four of his fellow soldiers and opened for several music artists including RUN-DMC, Whodini, New Edition and Midnight Starr. “That era,” Johnson muses, “was when I really started to understand that I liked entertaining people and that I had a gift to share.”
In Hip Hop music, Pretty Kenny was ahead of his time and the industry of the early 1980s. While the genre was very joking and party oriented, Johnson’s serious discourse surrounding relationships, heartbreak, and sexual content would not appear until several years after returning from duty in 1989 to find Oakland in the midst of a musical renaissance with artists like Tone-Toni-Tony, Too Short, MC Hammer, En Vogue, and Digital Underground reaching unprecedented popularity. To satiate his entertainment aspirations while working his 9 to 5, Johnson began managing artists and promoting parties in Oakland and San Francisco under 7Broke Brothers Entertainment and later 4712 Music.
The PK Experience is a new threshold in blues. The songs feature Pretty Kenny in the tradition of Tyrone Davis, Johnny Taylor and his favorite artist Johnny Guitar Watson. Songs like, “The Weather Man” and “Late Night Special” are laced in clever wordplay and plenty of innuendo like that of his idols. Other tunes like “Listen Girl” and “Church Sista” reflect the more personal trials and triumphs of Pretty Kenny’s journey through failed relationships, infidelity, and finding new love. “I love the southern soulful feeling of the blues and I think that is missing from music on the radio or underground,” states Johnson. “People shouldn’t be afraid to sing about life’s ups and downs, or produce music that fits that emotion. All I want to do is tell a few stories that come from the depth of my soul… and the blues is the only world music that really captures that American experience.”
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