I will extol the Lord at all times; His praise will always be on my lips. - Psalm 34:1 (NIV)
The third of six sons, Ron Kenoly was born in Coffeyville, Kansas, in 1944, into a family where he knew both joy and heartache.
"My mother put happiness and love into our household," he says. "We were poor, but she made us so happy that we didn't realize we were poor."
Ron's paternal influence was not as strong. "My father was in the military and gone all of the time," he says. "I didn't realize just how much I missed him until I became a father myself and found that there were things that I had no idea how to do because he'd never been there to show me how, or to model them for me."
"I've been singing as long as I can remember, and I think I turned to that for comfort from some of the pain of not having a father," says Ron. "My mother has told me that I used to sing myself to sleep when I was a toddler. I'd sing my own lullabies."
Raised in church, Ron began singing in children's choir and eventually accepted the Lord in late childhood. "I accepted Jesus as Savior at an early age," says Ron, "but it wasn't until years later that I made Him Lord of my life, and there's a big difference between the two.
But, I never was a wild kid because my seriousness about music always kept me focused on something constructive, avoiding stupid, self-destructive things. Later, when I got into the music business and saw a lot of people destroying their lives with drugs, alcohol and promiscuity, I said, 'I don't want any part of that.'"
After high school, Ron did a three-year stretch in the Air Force from 1965 to '68. It was while in the service that Ron met and married his wife, Tavita, and where he joined his first real band, called the Mellow Fellows. The group toured military installations, performing the Top 40 hits of the day, though his career decision had been set years before.
"I had decided music was going to be my career when I was kid back in Kansas," Ron says. "I can remember in our neighborhood there was one family that owned a TV. On Saturday nights they would turn it around and put it in the front window, facing the street, so everybody else could watch. I remember seeing Sammy Davis, Jr., and Nat King Cole for the first time, and I was profoundly impressed that here were two black men on a national stage -- highly respected and highly talented. I knew right then that was what I wanted."
In only a short time after leaving the Air Force, Ron relocated his young family to Los Angeles where he planned to seek his fortune in the music business. He soon became a sought-after nightclub performer, and with nine singles released on four major labels, he was on his way up the music business ladder and closing in on the "big break" that eludes so many aspiring artists.
"I had met every goal I had set in a very short time," Ron recalls. "Every step was a step forward, but it never brought the fulfillment that I thought it would. So I reached for a couple of higher rings, and when I had them, I was still empty. I realized I had a void that the world was never going to fill."
As his career took off, Ron's family life began to suffer. Separated several times and on the edge of divorce, Ron admits that he had made his career his god, and left his wife and three children on the periphery of his life.
"My wife rededicated her life to the Lord in 1975 and began praying for the healing of our family," says Ron. "I began to realize the goodness of God because I could see the changes He was making in her life, and I could see that while I never lost respect for God, I had never had a strong spiritual life. That's when the lights began to come on for me, because I was beginning to see all the things about Jesus that before I had only heard. I wanted the joy that she had found."
Ron recommitted his life to Christ that same year, remaining in Los Angeles and secular music for another year-and-a-half to fulfill lingering contractual commitments. When he left LA, he relocated with his family to Oakland, California, and completed a degree in music at Alameda College.
"From 1976 to '78, while I was in school, I just surrendered my life to the Lord, allowing Him to do some character building in me," says Ron. "I had to learn to be a husband and a father, and I had to learn how to relate to God as a Father. I still sang, but only every Sunday in the bass section of Bethel Missionary Baptist Church."
Ron taught music and physical education at Alameda from 1978 through 1982, and though he found a sense of peace in turning his life over to the Lord and His will, the fire to sing still burned within him.
In 1978, Ron decided his next logical move would be to land a Christian record deal, but after four years of almost total unresponsiveness from the Christian industry, Ron became disheartened.
Ron's despondency was heightened by the fact that throughout that time, secular labels continued to call him, expressing interest in rekindling old relationships. By 1982, it seemed to Ron as if the world wanted him, but Christianity was somehow not interested.
One evening in the summer of '82, Ron sat alone in his church for hours, playing, singing, praying, worshipping, and laying his burdens before the Lord.
"From that night on, the record companies ceased to matter," says Ron. "The Lord had met me and shown me so much, that I felt I had gone beyond what any company could offer me. Acceptance and rejection didn't matter anymore because all I knew was that I had been with God."
Ron left the church that night with nothing but a desire to worship and praise God, and to lead others in doing the same. Soon, word of Ron's musical talents began to spread around the Oakland area, and he found himself invited to lead praise and worship at numerous churches.
"I didn't even think of myself as a praise and worship leader," Ron says. "All I knew was I would go and sing my songs, and something special would happen."
Leading worship for high profile pastors like Lester Sumrall and Jack Hayford brought Ron to the attention of evangelist Mario Marillo who commissioned Ron to lead worship at his crusades. Through Marillo, Ron met pastor Dick Bernal, who had recently founded the Jubilee Christian Center, a growing congregation in San Jose, Calif.
Ron joined the church's staff as music minister in 1987, completely content with the place in life to which God had led him and without a thought of ever recording again. But, in 1990, Don Moen, creative director for Integrity Music, heard about Ron's ministry and approached him about the possibility of recording one of his praise services.
The result was a series of albums that became best-sellers in both the church and contemporary Christian markets. Among that series was Jesus Is Alive, the gold-selling Lift Him Up, God Is Able, Sing Out With One Voice, 1997's Dove Award-winning Welcome Home, Majesty, We Offer Praises, and his most current project Dwell in the House.
"I'm still trying to figure out what all of this means," Ron says seriously, but with a chuckle of amazement. "I want to be a good steward of what God has given me, not just in terms of music, but in life experience and valuable lessons I can pass on to other people. He's holding me responsible for the visibility and the influence that He's allowed me to have. And, make no mistake, it has been Him who has allowed it. My main concern is just to always do with it what He wants me to do."