The ghosts of Appalachia haunt the lyrics and melodies of Jeni & Billy's music: coal miners and quilting bees, pentecostal preachers and beauty queens, moonshine and oxycodone, the quiet dignity and hard work of those who manage to carve a living out of the mountains.
They call it "New Old Music." Spare yet tight acoustic arrangements — voice and fiddle, banjo and guitar, guitar and fiddle — are its muscle and bone. And its soul is the new, yet ancient melodies and harmonies Jeni & Billy craft while weaving stories of the mountains.
Jeni & Billy bring to their work distinct musical backgrounds that draw from the deep well of Appalachian roots music.
Jeni Hankins traces her vocal style to Virginia Lowe, the blind music minister of the Friendly Chapel Church on Smith Ridge, the Appalachian community in which Jeni spent her childhood summers. A natural storyteller and prolific writer since childhood, Jeni trained formally with Pulitzer-Prize-winning Northern Irish poet, Paul Muldoon, and earned a Masters in English Literature. While her singing has been compared to the lonesome voices of Maybelle Carter and Iris Dement, her writing has been likened to that of Southerners Carson McCullers, Flannery O’Connor, and Lee Smith.
A Baltimore native, Billy Kemp embraced the sound of country music in the nearby community of Oella — the home of Appalachian migrants who came to the city looking for work in the mills. Fired on by dreams of the Grand Old Opry and his passion for the sound of Flatt & Scruggs, Billy headed to Nashville and toured with country bands all over the US, Canada, Germany, and right onto the stage of the Opry. He honed and shared his skills as both student and instructor at the University of Maryland, and built a producing career working with roots artists.
Jeni & Billy continue the country tradition of the sweetheart duo, winning hearts with their genuine presence on stage and their true to life recordings, while bearing witness to the simple grace of plain folks.