Christian folk singer and independent artist JJ Heller will perform at Union College for vespers on Friday, April 14, at 7:30 p.m. in the College View Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Born in California, Jennifer Judy Kellner was raised in a home without much music. JJ began piano lessons at an early age and sang in the church and school choirs, but did not listen to music at home and never even considered a career as a musician. “My family was more focused on sports than music and in high school I played basketball, softball, and volleyball,” she told Ashleigh Slater for Ungrind, an online women’s magazine. “I viewed myself as an athlete, and even played basketball my freshman year of college.”
It was not until college that JJ became more musically involved. The summer after her freshman year she went on a mission trip to Africa in which she learned to play the guitar. “I wrote my first song with some friends on the trip, and I loved it!” she recalled. “I started writing more and more and soon discovered that people enjoyed listening to my songs.”
JJ joined a worship team through Campus Crusade for Christ, an international Christian evangelism and discipleship ministry, where she met her now husband and guitarist, Dave Heller. She continued to write songs as the couple’s relationship grew and after graduating from college the two married and pursued music full time. “We have a really unique marriage, I think,” she said in an interview with Jennifer E. Jones for the Christian Broadcasting Network. “We’re generally together 24 hours a day. I don’t think there are a lot of couples like that. But it’s really fun to be able to be on stage together and have the same dream. We can understand each other.”
The pair have independently produced nine albums since 2004, the most recent of which, LOVED, was released in March of this year. "As we started working on this record, the words ‘open heart’ kept cycling through my mind," JJ stated on her website. "God's helped me to see life as an adventure rather than a series of potential hurts. The world can be scary, but when we know we're loved, we can be open to risks because we are confident in our identity."
Union College has anticipated the Hellers’ concert since they were booked last summer. “My roommate, Nikki Ducklow, loves JJ Heller and plays her CDs a lot and so I also became more acquainted with her music,” said Kelli Vigil, vespers coordinator. “Jayme Anderson and I thought she'd be a great concert with her unique sound and poignant lyrics. I've spoken with her husband a couple times, he tours with her and acts as her manager, and they both seem like genuinely nice people. She's very excited about coming to Union and I can't wait to share them with everyone.”
Many of JJ’s releases have centered on easy-going melodies and clarion lyrics. “Her words are so honest and she has a very specific sound,” said Elena Cornwell, sophomore communication major. “She draws from life and puts that into her music. Her songs are very simple and true: that’s what I love. I see God in them.”
“Her music is very relaxing and just makes you feel the peace of Jesus,” said Vigil. “I think her concert comes at a perfect time as we as students are all super busy and stressed trying to survive these last few weeks of school. Her concert will be the perfect therapy and I can't think of a better way to bring in the Sabbath.”
The Hellers will perform for vespers in the College View Seventh-day Adventist Church on the campus of Union College. The church is located at the corner of 48th and Prescott and the concert is free and open to the public.