Erin Kelly is a teenager with a gift that keeps on giving: a powerful voice she uses to raise money for seriously ill children, disadvantaged families and veterans.
Kelly is the slender, South Whitehall brunette who has sung like an angel at the township’s and belted out the National Anthem before an Iron Pigs game. Last year she was nominated for a Lehigh Valley Music award.
A natural talent, she said she’s taken singing lessons for only a few years and acoustic guitar lessons the last two.
“She has a wonderful big show voice…and is very modest,” said Scott Watson, a music and band teacher at Parkland High School who said he’s had the privilege to witness her talent and altruism both in grade school and high school. “She played saxophone in the fourth and fifth grade band, and I didn’t even know she sang until her Mom mentioned it.”
Ask Kelly where she got her talent and the 17-year-old shrugs.
“I have no relatives that sing,” she said, giggling sweetly. “I don’t know where I got it from.”
The way her parents tell it, Kelly could sing before she could talk, singing nursery rhymes, a capella and in key. When she was 3, they took her to Philadelphia to audition for the Al Alberts Showcase, a sort of American Idol TV show for talented children of the time. Kelly was good enough to tour with the show in Philadelphia and at the New Jersey shore.
Since then, she's given countless performances for free or to raise money for charities, crediting her mother Dottie Kelly -- who doubles as her agent -- with getting her started.
“Mom has always done charity work, especially for Camelot for Children,” Kelly said. “She ran a camp for them even before I was born.”
Similarly, Erin Kelly sings for sick and dying children through a group called “Dream Kids.” The group has raised $10,000 or more annually for the Dream Come True Foundation in Lehigh and Carbon counties. Participants also have performed at Hershey Park, Downtown Disney and Give Kids the World in Florida.
“When we do parties for all the kids, we get to work personally with the children. That inspires me a lot,” she said.
Kelly sings for telethons in the Lehigh Valley and the Poconos to raise money for the Red Cross, Camelot House, Big Brothers/Big Sisters and veterans groups. Her dream is a lifetime career in music, but to also pursue an education that will help her continue to work with children.
She’s performed at national and local sporting events, including singing the National Anthem at a 76ers game at age 6 (captured on a YouTube video) and “God Bless America” for the Philadelphia Phillies at age 8.
Gen. Colin Powell heard her sing at the Pennsylvania Chamber of Commerce dinner in Hershey in 2007 and President George W. Bush at the same event in 2011. She won the “Knicks Kids Talent Search” at a Knicks season opener in Madison Square Garden in 2007 and the B104 Be an Idol Winner at the Great Allentown Fair in 2008.
Still a high school junior, Kelly’s voice can be heard on two Parkland High School holiday CDs that have raised nearly $3,000 for Valley Youth House for troubled teens. She also has cut her own five-song “EP” that sells at Jenny’s Gift Baskets in Allentown, off iTunes and CDbaby.com to raise money for college.
Kelly describes her voice and style as “mostly country soul.”
Her favorite singers include the country music duo Sugarland, Idol winner Carrie Underwood and the American country pop group Lady Antebellum, but Kelly said her style is all her own. “It’s different…I don’t model myself after anyone,” she said. “I just listen and pick up on things.”
South Whitehall Commissioner Tori Morgan, who asked Kelly to sing at the township tree-lighting ceremonies in recent years, doesn't remember when she first heard the teen sing but said her voice moved her to tears.
"To hear such passion and strength in a young lady is amazing," Morgan said. At township events, including Emergency Preparedness Day, "the kids love her," she added. "It's so refreshing to see a young adult so willing to donate her talents and time to the community."
Kelly said just being able to perform at events is "such an honor for me, to say I’ve done all these things. It gives me a special feeling that I’m doing good for others.”
If anyone else would like to follow in her footsteps, Kelly suggests: “Find an organization you really enjoy and just start helping out, doing whatever you can.”