Phillips showcases voice at Reds game
Beallsville High grad relishes rare opportunity
Growing up in Monroe County, Kenny Phillips remembers how his mom and dad would make he and his sister sit together in the backseat of the car and sing so they wouldn’t fight.
Little did he know that strategy to create harmony on family excursions would one day lead to a rewarding, and successful, hobby.
“Singing is a big part of who I am,” said Phillips, a 1986 Beallsville High School graduate.
And last month, his voice was on full display as he belted both the National Anthem and God Bless America at a Cincinnati Reds game at Great American Ball Park.
“It was a put up or shut up moment, really,” Phillips, now living in Pickerington, said laughing.
Phillips and his family have had a partial season ticket package with the National League club for a while now, and at a recent game he suggested to someone that maybe he’d like to try singing the anthem one day. As it turned out, the person he made the suggestion to worked at a Queen City insurance company located in a building that overlooked the stadium.
“I don’t know what kind of clout he has with the Reds organization,” Phillips said. “I would say, for the most part, not any more that I do. But he challenged me. He told me to make a recording and he’d see if he could get to someone in the team’s promotions department.”
Phillips made the demo and it got sent in.
There was no response, until…
“On the Wednesday before July 7 I got a phone call,” Phillips said. “The lady asked me if send her my rendition of God Bless America. I said, “When do you need it?’ She said, ‘Well, within the hour.'”
Phillips scrambled to get the demo produced and beat the deadline.
“An hour later, I was formally invited to sing both songs,” he said.
With just four days to prepare for his big performance, Phillips readied himself as much as possible. He was tasked with duties at church that Sunday but, instead, left early to get to Southwest Ohio for the finale of the Reds’ three-game weekend series with in-state rival Cleveland.
“It was a pretty quick turnaround,” Phillips admitted. “We had a lot of ground to cover in a short amount of time.”
Phillips is used to hitting all the right notes, though.
In addition to performing with his family as a youngster, Phillips played more than 200 dates a year with a gospel quartet upon moving to Central Ohio. After that became a bit too taxing, he switched to another group that performed more local shows. Now, he’s cut back a bit more and is singing in a 70s/80s classic rock cover band.
The son of Lola and Ken Phillips (a former superintendent of Switzerland of Ohio Schools), Phillips works as a teacher at Canal Winchester and coaches eighth-grade boys basketball and junior high track.
All of his performances couldn’t prepare him for stepping up to the mic with 27,041 people awaiting to hear him sing one of the nation’s most tradition-rich tunes.
“It was quite a rush,” he said. “The entire family attended. It was a really cool, special day.”
For Phillips, it was a performance unlike any other. The venue, obviously, was huge. Because of that, he had sound men hooking him up with the latest technology so everything would sound just right.
As he made his way on to the field, he was greeted by members of the Reds staff, who educated him on everything he’d have to do to prepare for the big moment. Along the way, some folks in the stands caught a glimpse of someone familiar.
“While we’re standing there, five or six people came over to the backstop that knew me from different areas of my life in Columbus, either church or school,” Phillips said. “That was really cool.”
Then came the big moment. With all the players lined up and everyone in place, Phillips stepped up to the mic.
“I’ve been singing all my life and I can tell you I wasn’t nervous, but I was more anxious than usual to get that first note out,” he said. “I knew if I could get the first couple of notes out I’d be OK.
“After the first few notes, I was able to regulate my breathing and I was fine.”
The Reds lost the game and the finale of the Ohio Cup, but the day was a win for Phillips.
“It worked out great for me.”