Kerry Junior gains following with poignant, personal music
Overcoming obstacles, KJ shines
The musical artist known as Kerry Junior has built a sizable following with his heartfelt songs -- and his dogged determination.
“I’m a self-taught singer, musician and songwriter,” he said. “My fans -- I call them my kjayers.”
A resident of Gary, Ind., he is otherwise known as -- more formally -- Kerry James Rogers Jr.
Only 21, Rogers has deftly used outdoor public property, online outlets and appearances at radio stations to display his intimate, acoustic sounds.
He used to sing the songs of Justin Bieber and Chris Brown, but self-generated material is the direction now.
Roger’s compositions are an infectious acoustical mix of folk, soul and pop.
His voice and guitar are all he relies on.
“I’m Drowning” is reminiscent of the stylings of Tracy Chapman (“Fast Car”).
Regarding his influences, Rogers cites the inspiration of Justin Timberlake and pop icon Michael Jackson.
Jackson’s boyhood home in Gary still stands at 23rd Avenue and Jackson Street.
Although a long way from the fame enjoyed by Timberlake and the “King of Pop,” Rogers has been tireless in his desire for public exposure.
A municipal building in Gary provided an early stage for the melodies that needed to get out.
“Basically, I got started at the City Hall where I used to sit on their steps and just play for, like, spare change -- for everybody to hear me,” Rogers recalled. “Everybody at City Hall, like, knows me.”
He has performed on Indiana radio stations WJOB-AM (1230) in Hammond and Lakeshore Public Radio (89.1 FM) in Merrillville. Another notable appearance took place on “The Gentleman Grochowski Show,” a Chicago TV program and internet radio outlet/podcast.
One of the most potent songs for Rogers to showcase is the moving “Mother and I” -- a very personal paean to matriarchal might.
The subject of the tribute is clear.
“Everything I’m doing, I do it because of my mom,” the singer-guitarist said in a recent interview. “She inspired me a lot more than anybody else.”
Kerry Junior, the artist, has had to pursue his passion while dealing with obstacles.
“He has an emotional disability,” said his mother, Wendy Maria Sanders-Johnson of Gary.
Kerry, as it turns out, has suffered neurological problems.
Born premature and underweight, he endured seizures, stroke and respiratory failure very early in life.
Kerry also had problems verbally communicating.
He was born as part of triplets, but one of the siblings -- a brother -- did not survive.
His mother’s pregnancy and childbirth were difficult.
But despite his health complications and insecurities, Kerry James Rogers Jr. has persevered with his musical journey.
“I’m very inspired; he’s very dedicated,” Sanders-Johnson said. “His father and I wanted him to be a football player. Kerry wasn’t into sports. When he asked me can he have a guitar for Christmas, it was kind of shocking.”
The performer wants to be a role model: “My goal is to inspire other people who have, like, the same disability.”
Kerry graduated in 2012 from Lew Wallace Science Technology Engineering Mathematics Academy in Gary.
He has been industrious in learning his craft.
In regard to learning the guitar, his mother said a popular video tool was used: “He taught himself off of YouTube.”
The region that is home to Kerry James Rogers Jr. has gotten to hear him strum guitar chords over the airwaves at Gary’s WLTH-AM (1370).
“A very giving and loving young man” is how Rogers is described by station manager Natalie Ammons.
“I think he’s great; I think he’s very dedicated to what he wants to do,” she said. “He steps up and promotes himself very well -- he’s not shy about that.”