Worshipful voices filled the Arts Center at Monday night’s City Council meeting as Willie Mae Kennedy was recognized for 80 years of gospel singing.
Sitting at her home the following day, with her bible on the arm of her chair, Willie Mae said she was excited for the recognition, but it’s Jesus that’s kept her going these 80 years.
“He’s still letting me sing and praise him,” she said.
Willie Mae said her grandmother would carry her to church when she was 5-years-old to sing.
“I was singing before I knew what the songs meant,” she said.
Some of her favorite songs are “Going Up Yonder,” “Take the Lord with You,” “Amazing Grace,” and “There’s a Leak in This Old Building.” She teaches these old songs to the next generation, encouraging the youth by telling them to use their talents, what God gave them.
“If you do things that are pleasing in his sight, he’ll give you a long life,” she said. “And love everybody.”
She includes a long list of Natchitoches residents among her friends, including mayors Joe Sampite, Wayne McCullen and Lee Posey.
“I’ve been here a while,” she said with a smile.
Determined to keep moving, Willie Mae sings at churches throughout the area, the NSU Folk Life Festival (where she was inducted into the Hall of Master Folk Artists) and nursing homes in Natchitoches. She is the only original living member of the gospel group, the Gospelrettes of Natchitoches.
“It’s encouraging to the people I sing to and to me,” said Willie Mae. “I asked God what he wanted me to do in my old age and he said to go out and tell people about him and sing his praises.”
Willie Mae enjoys caring for others. She graduated from the Natchitoches Technical College in nursing and worked at the hospital for 15 years.
Her children are Ronald Kennedy Sr., who works for the City and is a member of TCS singing group; Michael, who is in a band in Houston; James; Robert; Darrell; Joyce Walker and Geraldine Curry. She also has over 40 grandchildren and great-grandchildren.