Kenney worked early in life for Western Union as a telephone birthday singer. After moving to New York City, she recorded a demo in 1954 with Tony Tamburello; the demo was released in its entirety in 2006 by SSJ Records in 2006 under the title Snuggled on Your Shoulder. By the end of the year she had moved to Miami, where she landed a recurring engagement at the Black Magic Room. Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey heard her and took her on tour in the orchestra they co-led; she worked with them for several months before breaking off to move back to New York. Upon her return, she worked in clubs with George Shearing, Don Elliott, and Kai Winding; After a short tour of the Midwest with Larry Sonn, she signed to Roost Records and released her first album in 1956. This recording, Beverly Kenney Sings for Johnny Smith with the quartet of the legendary jazz guitarist Johnny Smith, was a substantial success and as a result she was awarded a residency at the infamous Birdland jazz club, where she was accompanied by the Lester Young Quintet. Her second release was Come Swing with Me, and Jimmy Jones led an ensemble behind her for her third and final release for Roost in 1957.
She moved to Decca Records, and released three further LPs with them, including Beverly Kenney Sings For Playboys (1958), Born to Be Blue (1959), and Like Yesterday (1959). Beverly Kenney Sings For Playboys featured liner notes by Steve Allen, which praised Kenney's vocal style and stated, "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."
Kenney was a critically acclaimed musician, but she saw little widespread acceptance, due at least in part to the burgeoning rock & roll movement. She had an intense personal dislike for this music, even going so far as to compose a song called "I Hate Rock and Roll", which she performed on The Steve Allen Show on May 18, 1958.
Death and legacy
She remains a cult figure in Japan, where all of her albums have been reissued to CD and have remained in print on a relatively steady basis. Japan's SSJ Records have released three collections of unreleased Beverly Kenney 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 recently 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).
- Beverly Kenney Sings for Johnny Smith (Roost Records, 1956)
- “Surrey with the Fringe on Top” b/w “This Little Town Is Paris” (Royal Roost, 1956)
- Come Swing with Me (Roost Records, 1956)
- Beverly Kenney Sings with Jimmy Jones & the Basie-ites (Roost Records, 1957)
- Beverly Kenney Sings for Playboys (Decca Records, 1958)
- “The Magic Touch” b/w “Your Love is My Love” (Decca Records, 1958)
- Born to be Blue (Decca Records, 1959)
- Like Yesterday (Decca Records, 1960)
- Snuggled on Your Shoulder (SSJ Records, 2006; composed of 1954 demo recordings)
- Lonely and Blue (SSJ Records, 2007)
- What Is There To Say? (SSJ Records, 2009)
- Snuggled on Your Shoulder (Cellar Door Records, 2010; reissue of SSJ Records release with bonus tracks)
- Flanagan, Lin (2015). Moonlight in Vermont: The Official Biography of Johnny Smith. Anaheim Hills: Centerstream Publishing. p. 71. ISBN 978-1-57424-322-2.
- Steve Allen, Beverly Kenney Beverly Kenney Sings For Playboys (Decca Records, 1958) back cover notes.
- Steve Allen Plymouth Show Episode #3.34 on IMDb
- Some sources indicate she was 32 years old at the time of her death.
- SSJ Presents Official Website
- Beverly Kenney Snuggled On Your Shoulder (Cellar Door Records, 2010) reissue liner notes.
- Beverly Kenney biography/discography
- Beverly Kenney at Allmusic
- Beverly Kenney Biography and Discography at This is Vintage Now
- Beverly Kenney Sings for Playboys (1958) review at Nostalgia and Now