The Auburn University Hotel’s resident piano man, Kenny Heard, likes to enliven his audience with beloved, fan-favorite tunes. One of which is Marc Cohn’s “Walking in Memphis,” which he opened one of his recent Auburn shows with.
“Like ‘Walking in Memphis,’” Heard said. “That’s one of those songs that everyone wants to hear.”
Then, he likes to take requests. He said it involves the audience more and gives him a more enjoyable show.
“I try to cover the originals that a bunch of other original, major artists did,” Heard said. “So Beatles, TCR and a lot of the Motown stuff.”
Heard, 35, has a special spot in his heart for Motown classics, he said.
He’s performed as the opening act for renowned names like BB King and The Commodores and even played a tour with Michael Warren.
Now, he travels the country performing with a band, but he always finds time to perform for in the community he has rooted himself in.
“This room (The Piccolo at the Auburn University Hotel) is known for having some of the greatest players play here,” Heard said. “Me and my wife, every time we come out, we come here. There’s always going to be some really good musicians, and we always like the company here.”
Heard is not from the Auburn area. He was born in California and moved to Alabama at a young age where his father served as a church pastor.
He grew up in music as he helped with the church music ministry playing drums and other instruments. Throughout his time in the music ministry, he never took any formal music lessons. He learned by listening to others play.
During his high school years, the music ministry was in need of a piano player. Meanwhile, Heard’s first instrument, the drums, had a line of musicians waiting to perform with the music ministry. So he started playing piano.
“I didn’t start playing [piano] until I was 16,” Heard said. “I didn’t take it seriously until I got a scholarship for it.”
Heard took his first formal music lesson at Lurleen B. Wallace Community College where he attended school on a music scholarship. He studied piano full time and graduated in 2001.
“Piano players are rare, especially around here,” Heard said. “I knew I could make a living playing piano.”
Several years after college, while Heard was moving between Nashville and Atlanta, he met his wife while playing at the Irish Bread Pub in Opelika. Once they were married in 2014, he decided to move to her hometown for her and his music career.
“Auburn is on the circuit of agencies,” Heard said. “There are a lot of agencies that book throughout the Southeast for private events and the bar and club scene. I knew that this place was in the middle of New Orleans, Nashville and Atlanta. I knew you could make a good living here.”
During this time, Heard also decided to begin singing and playing. He said it would make him more marketable as a performer.
It worked. Heard landed a contract with Crescent Moon Entertainment, who he still works with today.
But Heard doesn’t chalk it all up to his singing ability. He thanks the Auburn football program and their national championship in 2010, too.
“Everything was crazy,” Heard said. “Everyone was partying, everybody needed music. All those agents were here at that time. If it weren’t for Cam Newton, there probably wouldn’t be Kenny Heard.”
It’s not just a job or a career for Heard, it’s his life’s passion. Heard said he has always enjoyed playing, and it’s all he’s ever been good at.
It’s not the idea of fame or fortune that gets him to the piano every day, it’s the love of performing, Heard said.
“It’s in me,” Heard said. “It’s in my DNA, that’s what I like to say. Even if I wasn’t getting paid to play, I’d play every day.”