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Thursday, Oct 28, 2021

Mercer Artist: Kennedy Rayford and the art of love

Kennedy Rayford is a sophomore studying psychology on the pre-med track. Photo provided by Kennedy Rayford.
Kennedy Rayford is a sophomore studying psychology on the pre-med track. Photo provided by Kennedy Rayford.

For Mercer sophomore Kennedy Rayford, “art is something that comes from you that you’re proud of,” and, in Rayford’s case, she’s creating a lot of art.

On top of majoring in psychology on the pre-med track, Rayford is multitalented: she dances, acts, plays multiple instruments and writes poetry.

Dancing was Rayford’s first love. She took ballet, tap and jazz classes when she was younger, but since the age of seven, she has been mostly self-taught, with some ballet techniques sprinkled in.

Though Rayford has always loved dancing, she said she has struggled in the past to be so open about her passion.

“When people would kind of make jokes about me dancing all the time, it would really make me want to suppress it. It would make me feel insecure about my art to the point where actually I almost stopped dancing,” said Rayford, recalling her middle and high school days. “And so, also, I’m already an outcast in my family because everyone sings, and I don’t sing.”

Coming to college made Rayford into a blank slate. Mercer was a place where no one knew who she was or what she could do, and she found that she could define herself instead of being defined by others holding onto preconceived notions of her—and she is grateful for the fresh start.

“If I didn’t dance, I don’t know who I would be because I was a dancer and actress before I was a musician. I was a dancer and actress before I would necessarily call myself a poet. Like, this is who I’ve been forever,” said Rayford.

Rayford credits much of her inspiration for dance to Michael Jackson, and she frequently creates choreography to his songs, such as she did during the spring 2021 Z-Beats.

She also cites James Brown, the Les Twins and Chris Brown as her muses for dance. In fact, much of Rayford’s joy for dancing sprouts from the music she listens to, which is wide-ranging and compiled onto playlists that are rarely under ten hours long.

Rayford’s love of dance has grown even beyond herself. In addition to progressing her own style, she teaches choreography to a hip hop group at Mercer. They hope to begin performing for audiences next year, should COVID-19 conditions improve.

In addition to dancing, Rayford plays the piano and drums. She played percussion in the marching band; specifically, she learned the timpani.

She also became familiarized with the key placements on the marimba and xylophone and the rhythm of the snare, all of which she found to be similar to the piano.

“I think I was meant to play the piano,” said Rayford. “I didn’t need to look up where to put my fingers or how, because there are certain placements that you have to have for the piano in order to make it look right. I just knew where to put my hands.”

So, in the past two years, Rayford has smoothly translated her knowledge of percussion into playing the piano.

“The reason I picked up piano is because I was like, ‘I want to be able to play the piano for my wife one day,’” said Rayford.

Rayford’s tendency towards romance is likewise reflected in her start in poetry. She said she has been writing creatively since she first learned how to wield a pencil, but the first written work she remembers making was when she was five or six years old.

She described a leather journal her mother gifted her that was leather-bound with roses carved into the cover and gold-edged pages.

“I remember when she got it, I was writing, like, love songs about my first grade crush,” said Rayford. “Always relates back to love. Always.”

Since then, Rayford has written song lyrics, performed in poetry slams and been recognized by Mercer University for a poem she wrote for Black History Month.

Subjects that Rayford finds herself returning to in her poetry are her dreams and her emotions. While the dominating feeling Rayford explores is love, she also enjoys writing about “whatever intense emotion I’m feeling, so maybe, like, being angry, being upset, being misunderstood.”

As emotional as it is for Rayford to write poetry, she expects it to be read with the same intensity.

“You should leave that poem being scarred,” said Rayford.

Love is the thread that connects Rayford’s diverse artistic interests: love of others, love of craft and love of the power held within her own two hands.


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