Story by Lyda Kay Ferree, The Southern Lifestyles Lady. Photography by Rosy Roberts.
Many people recognize Kellye Cash, if not by sight, by her reign as Miss America 1987. Others have become acquainted with this gregarious Tennessean through her extensive travels and numerous appearances around the country.
As the first child of retired Navy Captain and Mrs. Roy Cash, Jr., Kellye learned at an early age to adapt to new surroundings. After all, her father’s career as a U.S. Navy fighter pilot took them all over the country and even overseas. Her Christian upbringing included a younger brother, Carey, who is now a U.S. Navy chaplain and a famous uncle, country music legend Johnny Cash.
During her junior year of college, a fraternity sponsored her in the Miss Memphis State Pageant. Her first runner-up position spurred her on, and her ten years of classical piano and voice training helped her win the Miss Milan Pageant in March 1986, Miss Tennessee 1986, and Miss America 1987. Following her years as Miss America in which she participated in commercial, religious and civic engagements including performances with her uncle Johnny Cash, Lee Greenwood and the legendary Bob Hope, Kellye returned to college and simultaneously launched her career as a music artist and speaker.
Kellye resides in Milan, Tennessee with her husband, Todd Sheppard, who is a high school teacher and head volleyball coach. Kellye and Todd have three children: Brady (25), Cassidy (22), and Tatum (18). Brady is an electrical engineer in Nashville, Cassidy is the Digital Marketing Specialist at Younger Associates and Tatum is a freshman music major at Union University. She stays busy as a church pianist, fitness instructor, piano/voice teacher and music director for school and community theater productions.
Kellye makes approximately 50 appearances each year at charitable and political events, pageants, churches and conferences. She has a concert schedule that includes the music of Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash, gospel favorite and show tunes. Kellye occasionally takes roles in professional theater. She has played Patsy Cline in 9 productions and/or tours of the musical, “Always Patsy Cline” and for 9 months starred as the narrator in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” in Branson, Mo. Her other professional theater credits include 2 productions of “Ring of Fire,” “Annie in Annie Get Your Gun” and recently 8 weeks of sold-out performances of “Mamma Mia,” where she played the lead, Donna, at Cumberland County Playhouse. She has recorded 6 CDs, 4 Christian and 2 country.
VIP: You did a super job at the recent Jackson-Madison County library fundraiser with your cousin John Carter Cash. What Jackson projects are you working on and what’s on the drawing board in Jackson in upcoming months?
Kellye Cash: Thanks. On October 27 I did a fundraiser for the Union University Athletic Department. Our son played basketball at Union for two years; Cassidy worked for the Athletic Department and Tatum now works for this department. Some of the Union athletic boosters have seen me in “Always Patsy Cline” at The Dixie, Cumberland County Playhouse and other Mid-South locations. They asked if I could sing an evening of Patsy Cline music as a fundraiser. West Tennessee Bone and Joint Clinic was the presenting sponsor of the concert.
On November 5 I’m involved in a West Tennessee Regional Arts Center Gala fundraiser in Humboldt. My daughter-in-law Lauren, Cassidy and I will perform. On November 11—Veterans Day—My band and I will perform at Liberty High School for the Jackson-Madison County Veterans Day program. My dad will sing Johnny Cash’s “Ragged Old Flag” and speak.
Then in March I will do a concert at The Ned, which thrills me. It will be a night of “Cash and Cline.” My three children and daughter-in-law will sing with me along with my Mom and Dad. We’ll be accompanied by my band, The West TN Strangers.
VIP: Talk about your longtime affiliation with the Cumberland County Playhouse (CCP). I understand that church buses from West Tennessee follow you there.
KC: They come to CCP from all over. After several tours of “Always Patsy Cline” and “Joseph…” in Branson, MO, someone called me from Crossville. The playhouse had been in New York auditioning for “Always Patsy Cline.“ Even though the theater is in Crossville, the talent usually comes from auditions in New York. A CCP board member had seen me play Patsy Cline and recommended that CCP stop auditioning in NYC and call me. I drove up and was so impressed with this professional theater in Crossville and their outstanding company of actors, crew, staff and musicians. Before I knew it, I was Patsy Cline in four productions at CCP in Crossville. That’s where I did “Mamma Mia” this past summer.
VIP: Is there a typical day for you?
KC: There is when I’m not in a show. When I’m in a show it is crazy! But when not traveling, I do have a typical day. I teach a cardio/weights class at the Milan Y Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings. In the afternoons I teach piano and voice at my church—First Baptist Church Milan. On the days that I don’t teach, I’m generally in rehearsal for something. Right now I’m the musical director for Milan High’s production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”
VIP: Do you still do some motivational speaking?
KC: Yes, mostly at ladies’ conferences.
VIP: Do you enjoy cooking?
KC: I do cook. Last year I cooked for my son’s wedding rehearsal dinner for 89 people. The entrée was homemade spaghetti with pepperoni. That’s what I always cook for our team dinners. I also do some Southern style and Mexican cooking. Cassidy and I are gluten intolerant, so I’m also a gluten-free baker. But I’m most famous for “Kellye’s Cookies.” I make around 600 homemade decorated iced sugar cookies every Christmas as gifts or for paying customers.
VIP: What are your hobbies?
KC: Books, movies, and musical theater. My husband is a volleyball coach so I also love volleyball and keeping the book for his games.
VIP: Describe an ideal day.
KC: Well…if I’m alone, like when I’m in Crossville in between shows… I like to get up, work out, and sit on my deck and read a book. At night I like to find a movie to watch. If my husband is with me we might go hiking. That’s an ideal relaxing type of day.
But I recently had a true ideal day. I got up and worked out, headed to Jackson and ate lunch with Cassidy, talked to Brady on the way home about him coming to town over the weekend, came back to Milan and taught a few piano lessons, then hung out with my husband that night after having breakfast food(gluten-free waffles, one of my favorites) for dinner. Then while Todd and I were watching TV, Tatum called and said she and some of her friends from Union were coming through Milan and asked if I would put on a pot of coffee. So at 11 p.m., I got up and put on some coffee. Tatum and four friends descended upon us. We drank coffee, ate cookies, and before too long, I was sitting at the piano playing for them while they sang the music to “Hamilton.” One of my favorite things to do is sit at my grand piano and play and sing music with my family and friends—Broadway songs, gospel tunes, Pentatonix harmonies and Christmas favorites. We do this any time family and friends are around—Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day if we get snowed in, or apparently if my daughter drops in with friends at 11 p.m. on a Friday night. As they left at 12:30 a.m., I realized that I had just had an ideal day.
VIP: What goals have you set for the remainder of this year and next year?
KC: I want to continue to act as a music director for community and school musical theater productions. After 15 years in professional theater, I feel like I can give something to the productions in this area. I absolutely love rehearsing and teaching parts in musicals. And I hope to continue to perform. The show season for CCP has not been announced for next year, but there is always a good chance that I will get to do another show there next season.
I also have a CD project in the works. We are trying to finish this project before the March concert at The Ned. I’ve written a song about my Uncle Johnny Cash. I’m not a songwriter, but I have had this song in my head since the week that he died and I never sat down and wrote it until now. He was an inspiration to many and this song reflects that.