Fresh from a big win for her gospel album, Tori Kelly brings her acoustic tour to town. (Courtesy Myriam Santos)

Tori Kelly’s faith brings Grammy success

There was an aura of vindication hovering over pop star Tori Kelly at February’s Grammy Awards for the surprise stylistic detour she took on her sophomore effort “Hiding Place.”

Rather than repeat the successful formula of her Max Martin- and Ed Sheeran-assisted debut “Unbreakable Smile” (which earned her Grammy nomination in 2016 for best new artist), the California native doubled down on the faith-based music she grew up on in Wildomar. It resulted in a best gospel album Grammy and one for best gospel performance-song for “Never Alone” with Kirk Franklin.

Kelly, 26, has returned to Top 40 form on an upcoming third disc, with its buoyant new single “Change Your Mind” and an acoustic tour which hits the Bay Area this week.

Yet she will always trust her gut instinct, which started developing when she signed her first record deal at 12.

When she pitched “Hiding Place” to her team, headed by savvy Justin Bieber manager Scooter Braun, the response was positive. They trusted her instinct, too, even though she herself had a few doubts at first.

“But then I thought, ‘You know what? Even if this album is a flop and people just don’t get it, I love these songs so much I’m still going to put them out,’” she says.

“Hiding Place” started out as a one-cut experiment with Franklin but soon expanded.

“Gospel music is a big part of my roots, and when I was learning to sing, gospel singers are just some of the craziest vocalists you’ve ever heard,” she says. “And not only that, but my faith has always been really important to me. It keeps me grounded and it’s the foundation for everything in my life. So there was just this pull on my heart to make this record.”

That might explain the radiance and reverence Kelly brings to her performances; in particular, at the 2016 Emmy Awards, where she sang an eerily haunting rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” during the “in memoriam” segment.

She already knew the track by heart. It’s what her elephant character Meena trills in 2016’s animated film “Sing.”

She also put her own bubbly topspin on the Nationwide theme song in a recent commercial for insurance, all while rocking the most massive leonine mane since Taylor Dayne.

Although she hasn’t done any hair-care endorsements, she says, with glee, “I would totally be into it,” adding, “I have my parents to thank for my curly hair, and once I embraced it at 13 or 14, I never stopped wearing it that way. And now people like it, I guess.”


Tori Kelly
Where: Fox Theater, 1807 Telegraph Ave., Oakland
When: 8 p.m. March 8
Tickets: $39.50 to $55
Contact: (510) 302-2250,

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