Kenney's career began as a birthday singer for Western Union. After moving to New York City, she recorded a demo tape in 1954 with Tony Tamburello (the demo was released in its entirety in 2006 under the title Snuggled on Your Shoulder). By the end of the year, she moved to Miami and worked regularly at the Black Magic Room. For several months she toured with Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey's Dorsey Brothers Orchestra before returning to New York. Kenney said "Tommy and Jimmy liked me, but they thought I was too much of a stylist for the band. After a few months on the road, I left, and returned to New York", where she sang in clubs with George Shearing, Don Elliott, and Kai Winding.
Her big break came in October 1955, when she was featured in a Jazz Benefit concert for Israel at Carnegie Hall, sharing the bill with Miles Davis, Art Blakey, Tito Puente, and Marian McPartland. An October 25, 1956 newspaper ad lists Kenney as appearing at the Playgoer Room at the Westnor restaurant in Westport, Connecticut. At 24 years old, Kenney was beginning to become a fixture of the New York Jazz scene. She earned a standing gig at Birdland with Lester Young, and upon her debut at New York’s Basin Street Club, DownBeat critic Nat Hentoff praised her as compared to other artists. He said Kenney is “more flexible than Helen Merrill, swings more easily than Teddi King, and her musicianship and care for lyrics are far superior to Chris Connor’s.”
From 1956–1960, Kenney recorded six albums, three for Royal Roost and three for Decca. Her first album, Beverly Kenney Sings for Johnny Smith (1956), recorded when she was 24 years old, with a quartet led by jazz guitarist Johnny Smith. She then began a residency at the Birdland jazz club accompanied by the Lester Young Quintet. Her television exposure consisted of one visit to The Steve Allen Show on May 18, 1958, performing the song she wrote "I Hate Rock 'n' Roll" and one appearance on Playboy's Penthouse, where Kenney coaxed host Hugh Hefner to sing "Makin' Whoopee" with her.
Steve Allen also wrote liner notes for her album Beverly Kenney Sings for Playboys (Decca, 1958) in which he commented, "A word to playboys: I would not recommend this album as Music to Make the Romantic Approach By. You're apt to get more interested in Beverly than the girl you're trying to impress."
In a review of her 1959 album Born to be Blue, editor Allan Gilbert, Jr. said of Kenney "...she has the ability to gently, huskily slur, warp and mould her phrasing to achieve rare individuality" and that she "could be tomorrow's big name."
Death and legacy
Kenney attempted suicide twice and then succeeded the third time with a combination of alcohol and Seconal on April 12, 1960 in an apartment in Greenwich Village, Manhattan, New York. Her father, Charles J. Kenney had dinner with her two nights earlier and said "everything seemed fine".
She remains a cult figure in Japan, where all of her albums have been reissued on CD and have remained in print on a relatively steady basis. SSJ Records in Japan released three collections of previously unreleased material: Snuggled on Your Shoulder (2006), Lonely and Blue (2007), and What Is There to Say? (2009). This first in the series, Snuggled on Your Shoulder, was reissued by Cellar Door Records in 2010; it features the SSJ Records release in its entirety plus bonus tracks from a discovered radio show. One track from Snuggled on Your Shoulder, "Tea for Two", was released on the Vintage music compilation, This is Vintage Now (2011).
- Sings for Johnny Smith (Roost, 1955)
- Come Swing with Me (Roost, 1956)
- Sings with Jimmy Jones and The Basie-Ites (Roost, 1957)
- Sings for Playboys (Decca, 1958)
- Like Yesterday (Decca, 1959)
- Born to Be Blue (Decca, 1959)
- Sings for Playboys (Decca, 1999)
- Lonely and Blue (SSJ, 2007)
- Snuggled On Your Shoulder (SSJ/Cellar Door, 2006)
- Volume 4 (SSJ, 2017)
- McGee, David (4 September 2015). "The Girl Singers That Time Forgot". The Absolute Sound. Retrieved 2 May 2017.
- Flanagan, Lin (2015). Moonlight in Vermont: The Official Biography of Johnny Smith. Anaheim Hills: Centerstream Publishing. p. 71. ISBN 978-1-57424-322-2.
- Korall, Burt (1959). Born to be Blue (Media notes). Beverly Kenney. Decca Records.
- "Beverly Kenney After Dark". Beverly Kenney: Born To Be Blue. January 29, 2016. Retrieved July 7, 2018.
- "Westnor Playgoer Room". Fairfield County Fair. Fairfield, Connecticut. October 25, 1956. Retrieved July 7, 2018.
- "TV Key Previews". Albequerque Journal. Albequerque, New Mexico. May 18, 1958. Retrieved July 7, 2018.
- "Beverly Kenney After Dark". www.jazzwax.com. Retrieved July 7, 2018.
- Steve Allen, Beverly Kenney, Beverly Kenney Sings for Playboys, (Decca, 1958) back cover notes.
- Allan Gilbert, Jr. (May 1, 1958). "Miss Kenney Could be Tomorrow's 'Big Name'". Northwest Arkansas Times. Fayetteville, Arkansas. Retrieved July 7, 2018.
- "Blues Singer Found Dead in N.Y. Apartment". The Bee. Danville, Virginia. April 14, 1960. Retrieved July 7, 2018.
- "スタンダード・ヴォーカル・アルバムの復刻・発掘 （インストゥルメンタル）SSJ（Sinatra Society of Japan） presents CD". Sinatrajapan.com. Retrieved 2016-04-20.
- Beverly Kenney, Snuggled on Your Shoulder (Cellar Door Records, 2010), reissue liner notes.
- "Beverly Kenney on This is Vintage Now; Beverly Kenney Discography and Bio". Thisisvintagenow.com. Archived from the original on 2016-03-19. Retrieved 2016-04-20.