KELS, Kelsey Hillock, is a German-born, Alt R&B artist from Pittsburgh, PA. Her main influences include Amy Winehouse, Erykah Badu, Adele, Alicia Keys and Lauryn Hill.
From birth, her father instilled in her a love for singing and music, being a natural vocalist himself. During the majority of her childhood she traveled often between her divorced mother and father's homes. She has early memories of singing full length albums from Andre Bocelli, to Kelly Rowland, to the Eurodance group Double You, to Alicia Keys with her father on long car rides.
Born in Germany to military parents, she moved consistently from birth to age five and permanently stayed in her mother’s hometown, Pittsburgh, after her parent’s divorce in 1999. KELS began her education St. Ursula in Allison Park.
Her loud personality, blunt disregard for authority, and creative distraction often caused her to be at odds with her teachers. She had an initial rocky start with music — she was kicked out of the school choir by the 3rd grade and seldom landed a notable part in the annual school musicals. KELS was not one to conform — she was often pushing the musical and creative envelope (as she does today).
Once KELS began songwriting at age 13, with no formal music theory training, she taught herself the basics of piano and harmonies to enhance her self-taught songwriting skills. Melodies constantly came into her head as a child. She slept with a notebook and pencil next to her bed to record midnight song ideas. In high school, KELS began formal jazz voice training, finding that her voice fit well in the genre.
KELS was incredibly inspired by the voices of Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan — the first two jazz albums she ever heard as a child. By the time she graduated high school she had written and released two EPs, one under a Pseudonym "Chaine" and one EP with her acoustic duo, Bridge of Spades. After dropping out of her high school musical during her senior year, KELS auditioned and was granted first chair in the 2014 Pennsylvania State Jazz Choir. She was one of ten young women statewide to be chosen for the choir. KELS simultaneously founded the first all female acapella group at her high school for which she arranged pop pieces and directed.
Post graduation, KELS studied Jazz Voice and Music Business at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio, and went on to win Best Jazz Vocalist at the Elmhurst Jazz Festival in Chicago in 2015 as a freshman. After a year in the music conservatory at Capital, KELS decided to shift her focus and primarily study business, in order to manage herself and her music. She applied to the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Business. Despite being rejected from the business school twice, that didn’t stop her from attaining her bachelors degree in two years once she was finally admitted.
KELS' voice is heavily influenced by her jazz roots — primarily by the vocal styles of Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, and Sarah Vaughan. Her original music is alt R&B focused with elements of neo soul and pop.
KELS self released her debut single "Closer" in November of 2020, which has amassed over 20,000 streams across all platforms. Her sophomore single "No Lie." was released on April 16, 2021. She is currently finishing her first EP as KELS which will debut on all platforms in the summer of 2021. She is honored to perform her original music in her hometown at the Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival.