Aug. 27, 2013
By Chloe Kennedy, News and New Media Writer
Singer-songwriter Chris Hennessee ’97 has moved up in the world since graduating from Maryville College.
Performing in the state-of-the-art Clayton Center for the Arts this fall during Homecoming weekend, he’ll likely conclude that his alma mater has moved up, too.
“I’m looking forward to playing in the Clayton Center,” said Hennessee, whose previous campus performances were inside a deteriorating Fine Arts Center. “(As a student), I was writing songs and playing wherever I could find a place to play.”
The Sept. 27 concert will begin at 8 p.m. in the Ronald and Lynda Nutt Theatre. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased online or by calling the Clayton Center Box Office at 865-981-8590.
The Decatur, Tenn., native came to Maryville College in 1995, after transferring from Hiwassee College to play baseball under Coach Eric Etchison ‘87. Majoring in history, he got a job offer to teach after graduation.
“I had to take a couple of days to think that over,” Hennessee recalled. “And I realized I’d better go to Nashville.”
Within six months, he was in Nashville, waiting tables at the Bluebird Café and sleeping on a mattress in the dining room of friend and fellow MC alumnus Kyle Duke ‘97.
In 2004, Hennessee got his first publishing deal with major publisher RPM, and for six years, he wrote songs – many of which were recorded by other artists, including Billy Currington, Kevin Fowler, Rodney Carrington and Tate Stevens. In 2010, Hennessee branched out and did his own publishing.
He released “Hennessee, Like Tennessee” in May 2011, and in November, he released his latest album, “Revival,” which is available on iTunes.
For the last year, he’s been on tour with longtime friend and acclaimed Nashville singer-songwriter Jamey Johnson.
“If we’re not the openers for someone, then I tend to open for Jamey,” said Hennessee, who lives in Nashville with his wife, Rachael, and almost-2-year-old son, Hayes. “We go all over the country. We recently did shows with Willie Nelson, and coming up, we’re doing shows with Merle Haggard and Hank (Williams) Jr. I got to play onstage with George Strait, Alison Krauss – there’ve been a bunch of them. Three or four days a week, we’re out singing.”
His music has been labeled “Southern Country Blues,” but when asked to describe his music, he hesitates to come up with a specific label.
“Ultimately, that question is like asking ‘What’s your favorite song?’” Hennessee said, laughing. “I don’t know how to describe my music other than a collection of things that have inspired me for the last 30 years. I don’t know if it’s country or blues or rock or what it is – I kind of leave that up to whoever listens to it to decide what it is.”
Hennessee said his experience at Maryville College helped him go into a business he “knew nothing about” and know that he could succeed.
“It just helped me know that I could do it – because of what I did at Maryville, I knew that I could succeed at this and persevere,” he said.
He also attributes his success to his faith.
“I pretty much got to a point where I didn’t have anything and didn’t have any path or chance in music, and I just ended up throwing my hands up in the air and saying, ‘Alright God, it’s all in your control,’” he said. “Next thing I know, the thing with Jamey comes up, everything falls into place, and I’m in the best place I’ve ever been in my career – and it’s all because of faith when it’s all said and done.”
Maryville College is ideally situated in Maryville, Tenn., between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Knoxville, the state‘s third largest city. Founded in 1819, it is the 12th oldest institution of higher learning in the South and maintains an affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Known for its academic rigor and its focus on the liberal arts, Maryville is where students come to stretch their minds, stretch themselves and learn how to make a difference in the world. Total enrollment for the fall 2013 semester was 1,168.