Friday, 14 July 2017

Julian Kelly: The Most Prolific Songwriter You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

By: Robert Skulder, Britain Collective of Music IV, Amherst Division.

In the songwriting world, Julian Kelly is a household name. If you’re stuck on your lyrics or songwriting for your big-budget project and you need an industry pro-- from the silver screen to Broadway, call Julian. She’s a genius. Literally.

She was tested as a child; she’s an actual genius.

Ms. Kelly has ghost-written for an incredible roster of main-stream artists, from newbies to multi-platinum selling performers. Yet, even with such immense success, she’s best known for her activism inside the adoption community, and often snubs all the glitter and glam of Hollywood for a simpler life. When speaking of her accomplishments, her many film, music, and publishing accolades are eclipsed in lieu of conversations about public transport in London, her inability to find good pizza in Paris, and how she once got lost in a rain forest near Tulum, Mexico. While she certainly loves the finer things in life, you’d never know it by just looking at her because Julian keeps an unusually low profile.

When I spoke to Julian by video chat, she was sitting at the piano, plunking out a few keys for a new musical she’s been commissioned to write, something she’s been very tight-lipped about.

“So how do you even start the mammoth undertaking of writing an entire show?” I asked her. She shrugged with a non-committal attitude. “I always start with whatever is really ailing me at the time.”

Right now, Julian’s troubled by a lot of things: politics, adoptee rights, a friendship that she really wants to be more, her dog’s skin problems, her Intersex/Transgender husband’s civil rights under the Trump administration.

Julian makes it crystal clear that her husband, Charlie is the love of her life and that his relaxed attitude helps to balance out her non-stop worrying. While Charlie and Julian are one of those rare couples who lead incredibly separate lives, their devotion to each other was obvious, as I perused hundreds of photos in which they were usually found showering one another with hugs and kisses.

Julian is Charlie’s second marriage, so she often jokes that his divorce was the best thing that ever happened to her. Charlie separated long before Julian entered the picture, but their connection was immediate. They married in California in a small beachside ceremony shortly after meeting in 2010.

“My wife completely saved my life,” says Charlie, who pulls no punches about how difficult it was to grow up Intersex/Transgender in the bible belt. Charlie was legally adopted through a step-parent adoption and agrees with Julian’s views of adoptee rights.

Charlie has seen first-hand how lack of adoption transparency affected his wife throughout their many years together. “There were times when Jules would just wake up screaming in the middle of the night. I mean, she’d be literally screaming in terror.” During the first few years of their marriage, Julian was often plagued by fears that her husband would leave. Once, when Charlie took an angry walk around the block, Julian collapsed into sobs, thinking he was gone forever. Years of therapy pulled her out of that dark place, but adoption certainly left its marks on her life. Yet, she insists that the generational ails will end with her.

“Adoptees deserve access to their original birth certificates, and it’s ridiculous to me that we have to convince legislators that we deserve the right to know our true birth dates, our parents’ names and our places of birth. The fifties really succeeded in shaming unwed mothers and bringing shame into the adoption process. We adoptees are here to communicate that shame and secrecy shouldn’t be a part of things. The adoption system is broken. People look at me like I’m flawed b/c I’m an adoptee. That kind of thinking is really messed up. Some adoptees are incredibly accomplished!” Julian says.

Flaws or not, Julian is without a doubt one of the most prolific musical writers of our time. When she described the ways in which some of her birth family snubbed her, it reminded me of the Netflix series “Haters Back Off.” With certain members of her birth family operating under the delusional assumption that their birth-status makes them superior. Some of them even seemed to think she was just looking for money.

“How many of them have gold status records?” I asked her, quipping as she chortled. “Are they owners of publishing houses? Why the rejection? I don’t understand what would make these average sounding people decide to reject someone so incredibly successful!” I said. It is a question that really does baffle me. Why do some families who are obviously lower in class, reject adoptees that have far surpassed them? Is it embarrassment, jealously—outright hatred?“Do they think you’ve got a chip on your shoulder or something?” I asked. Julian shrugged. “I don’t know. I don’t think of myself as superior to anyone. I think it’s probably their own insecurities being projected onto me.” Julian said.

“It doesn’t really matter to me that they don’t accept me.” Julian finally noted. “I lead a charmed life and I don’t need to pander for validation or approval. Anyway, I have my sister—who was the number one person I was looking for. I love Linda so much.”

Julian’s relationship with her sister Linda and brother William has made her life feel complete. “They were the ones I needed to find in order to feel whole, and now I have them. I have no complaints.”

Linda is a successful business owner and mental health counselor. William is going to be getting into real estate soon, and Julian glowed as she spoke about both of them. “I just love them so much,” she said, tearing up. “I love them more than words can express. I have to check myself and try not to be pushy because I like being with them so much that I want to get together all the time! I have to try not to nag them too much.” She laughed.

Her songwriting even reflects that she’s reached a little closure in her life.

“When I get into that writing space, I confront all the things which bug me—which helps me release them at the same time.”

Adoption has influenced her life, but many other things have too.

During our short interview, she spoke a lot about the power of stereotypes. Julian vividly remembers her days in high school and college. “I went to this awesome private Catholic school, where I had the most amazing music teacher Ms. McGowan. I had incredible music teachers who really helped me to blossom, but I also encountered a few that took the opposite stance, who gave me bit parts because they believed in type-casting, I think.” Yet, none of that slowed her down. She allowed nothing to get in her way.

In fact, a few songs from her album “The Family Reject” have recently become eligible for certified Gold status in certain countries, though Julian doesn’t seem too concerned with the vetting process.

“I drive around in a painted car for goodness sakes! That’s how much I care about status symbols.” I took the painted car comment as a joke until she brought the camera outside and showed me her small car, literally covered in house paint, which is a running joke among friends and family alike.

“My cousin Tina and I have had so many awesome laughs over my car! I’m never selling it. No matter how successful, I am…the car stays!” Then, I promptly asked her if it was true that genius was often close to madness? She laughed.

“I’ve lived on that spectrum my entire life, sometimes leaning one way more than the other. I think everyone does. Creativity always has a dash of madness in it.”

While Julian boasts a list of accomplishments and song-writing credits that most would kill for (including a Presidential accolade), she feels that life isn’t really about status, and focuses more on the importance of activism, being happy, and staying connected.

“So, will I see you at the Grammy’s next year?” I asked her, fingering a photo of her wearing a sparkling blue dress at a prior Emmy Awards’ ceremony.

“I don’t know. I’ll probably go if there’s nothing better going on.”


  1. Julian, there is so much I didn't know about you. You are a fabulous person and I see why we bonded. I wish you continued success! When are we getting together? Peace and much love. Carine

  2. Julian you are a beautiful and very successful person and even through the worst you still manage to stay happy i wish you the best of luck in life also keep at the music it's really amazing