By Rachel James-Terry
Kelly Kinkaid, supervising producer of the popular Sirius XM radio show “Sway in the Morning,” popped a bottle of champagne, refilled the glasses of her guests and proposed a toast.
It was the Saturday morning of Jackson State University’s 2018 homecoming weekend. Kinkaid, a JSU alum, hosted an inaugural breakfast at the Hilton Garden Inn in downtown Jackson. She is planning to turn the event into an annual scholarship brunch.
The Flint, Michigan native expressed her desire to reach students who may not be able to compete academically but still have a drive and determination for their field.
“We have to help everyone look at their passion as a career path, so when they go to work it doesn’t feel like work,” she said. “We should start here in college while students are trying to figure out who they are and what they want to do.”
A member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., Kinkaid noted that JSU has many successful alums who could help alleviate the stress that comes with pursuing dreams. “I want to start with donations to provide for students who are passionate. This could be the confirmation they need to stick to their path.”
Ensuring others find or fulfill their purpose hits home for the alum. As a freshman, she initially majored in biology with a desire to be a mortician. “Like many kids, we go in thinking we want to be one thing and get there and think ‘No, this isn’t what I really want to do,’” she said. “I knew I was a creative, so I switched my major to marketing between my freshmen and sophomore year.”
The last semester of her senior year, Kinkaid planned to go into advertising. However, the soon-to-be graduate discovered WJSU radio station in the school’s communications department. The self-proclaimed music lover thought to herself “why didn’t I do this sooner?’”
Instead of exploring her artistic side, Kinkaid moved back home, at the urging of her father, and enrolled in the management training program at Meijer – a Midwestern regional supercenter chain. Once she became head of the deli department, her father viewed the move as a sign of her potential with the organization.
“He was like you’re going to have your own store. The bigger goal, the promise land was me moving to Grand Rapids (Michigan) and working in corporate,” she said.
When she learned that one of her employees had been with the supercenter for 10 years, Kinkaid had an epiphany. “I had this out-of-body experience,” she explained. “At that moment, I realized I was not walking in my purpose.”
Soon after that, a friend moving to New York invited her to tag along, and after a conversation with God, Kinkaid decided to head east.
“I had $400 and two big bags. My parents looked at me like I was crazy when they took me to the airport,” she said.
It was 1991 when Kinkaid arrived in the Big Apple. She balanced a job at TGI Fridays while interning at music labels like RCA, a subsidiary of Sony, EMI and Columbia Records.
“I was very focused and networked at my internships. I come from the type of internships where you figured it out. I think many interns today have everything handheld,” she said. “I learned a lot and had a chance to meet a lot of people.”
Kinkaid also worked with myriad executives and artists who were influential in educating her on the industry. “I had the passion, spirit and determination that I was going to make it. I didn’t want to go home,” she said.
Aside from experience, the alum also gained friendships. One particular bond she established was with Sway Calloway, a popular journalist and radio personality, who would eventually host MTV shows “Total Request Live” and “Direct Effect.” When Calloway, an Oakland native, talked about making a permanent move to New York, Kinkaid invited him to share her large two-bedroom apartment.
“He could’ve gotten him a big place, but he slept on my futon,” she explained. “Then one of my roommates moved out, and he moved into their old room.”
As a friend, Kinkaid began fielding requests for Calloway, and the two became a dynamic duo in the business. When rapper Eminem decided to expand his Sirius XM radio station Shade 45, he called on Calloway and the show “Sway in the Morning” launched in July 2011.
Initially, the alum intended to work on the show just long enough for Calloway to settle in, but “seven years later I’m still there,” she said. As a woman working in a male-dominated industry, Kinkaid said that people tended to peg her as Calloway’s assistant. But instead of fighting for relevance or standing on a soapbox, the alum is very clear about who she is and what she does.
And what hasn’t she done? Kinkaid is an impressive multitasker, having worked in public relations, music management, marketing, and production for years. Aside from collaborating on a series of projects, Kinkaid also hosts shows like “First Aid with Kelly Kinkaid,” a weekly health and wellness segment on Shade 45 and a YouTube sports show called “Girls and Basketball.”
In 2011, she and Calloway launched the joint venture OverDeliver Entertainment. Among their roster of artists, she advised people to watch for Oswin Benjamin, a rapper and singer, from Newburg, New York. Benjamin’s album “GODFREY” will be released on Feb. 22.
Lastly, Kinkaid said she is passionate about doing more for the JSU National Alumni Association. “I want to get the spotlight on our university so more students will consider enrolling and becoming proud HBCU graduates.”