They were both born in the D.C. area before rising to music fame in their respective genres.
This week, Big Kenny of country duo Big & Rich will sing at the Congressional Baseball Game on Wednesday, while R&B star Ginuwine will appear at the Bowie Baysox on Thursday.
WTOP caught up with both artists to preview their events and reflect on their careers.
Big & Rich
Big Kenny will perform his own rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” at Nats Park for the Congressional Baseball Game, which he called a perfect chance to put partisanship aside.
“It’s not just the baseball, it’s the coming together of everyone in D.C.,” Kenny told WTOP. “This event is the biggest celebration of bipartisanship for good in our capital. That’s what I find super exciting about it. Seeing people get together no matter what their political opinions are to have fun, to celebrate not only baseball but our country, our community and give back. … We’re also celebrating our veterans and first responders — primarily our Capitol Police.”
The event is a homecoming for Kenny, who grew up in Virginia.
“I’m super excited to come back to D.C.,” Kenny said. “My hometown is Culpeper, Virginia, exactly 90 miles from Washington D.C. Every time I’m coming to the East Coast, I’ve got a couple of young boys, I love to bring them to D.C. It’s a great celebration of America, beautiful buildings, beautiful monuments, so much to see and do and so much for the kids to learn.”
How did he make his way from Culpeper to Nashville?
“I was brought up playing music as a kid, but you really had to be out there working a real job,” Kenny said. “I was working on the farm there in Virginia and working in construction. … In the ’90s there was a famous oil crisis that swept across the country and put everybody out of the construction business. My friends said, ‘You sing pretty well, you should go to Nashville.’ So I went to Nashville, I didn’t know anyone, I just went to the city and said, ‘Here I am.'”
Playing in a band four nights a week, he eventually got a record deal in 1999 and formed his so-called MuzikMafia in the early 2000s. During this time, he had many of the life experiences that inspired him to write hits for other artists, including “Here for the Party” for Gretchen Wilson, “Hicktown” for Jason Aldean and “Last Dollar” for Tim McGraw. The lattermost was inspired by his own “last dollar” moment in Las Vegas in 2002 before Big & Rich got signed.
“My manager was doing Alabama’s farewell tour and said, ‘If you make your way out, I’ve got a free hotel room.’ … I’m down to $100 at 3 a.m. going, ‘What am I going to do?’ So I went and sat down at a blackjack table. … I won 10 hands in a row and got up to about $800 … but then that dealer decided to deal herself a blackjack. … I grabbed that $1 chip, pushed myself away from the table … went up to my room, sat on the corner of the bed and the heel pulled off my boot! I said, ‘What next, Lord?’ Thirty minutes later I wrote, ‘Down to my last dollar.'”
After grinding it out in Nashville and writing songs for other artists, his life-changing moment came when a mutual friend brought ex-Lonestar singer John Rich to see one of his shows.
“I was playing a little club in Nashville … and at the end of my shows, I’d always bring stuff you can give to people, so I got a big bag of after-Halloween candy,” Kenny said. “I had a big bag of Double Bubble bubblegum and I was slinging it out to everybody. I grabbed a big handful and made sure I got some to the back of the room, where John happened to be standing. A piece hit him right under his cowboy hat on his forehead between his eyes. … We finally got together and wrote a song … and by the end of that year we’d written about 100 songs.”
Thus, Big & Rich was born in 2003 with their debut album “Horse of a Different Color,” including the stadium anthem “Comin’ to Your City,” played to this day on college football.
“I had been asked to be a mentor to 50 students that had won an essay contest to come to Nashville,” Kenny said. “I’d break them up in groups of 10, write songs with them take them into the studio and then hit the stage and perform them live. … I asked John to write with me and this one group of 10 students. We had gone around the room meeting everyone, asking where they’re from, all from different states, different places, and I said, ‘I got this song idea called ‘Comin’ to Your City’ and all these places here, they’re the places we’re going to be.”
Another student meeting inspired their smash party song “Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy.”
“We asked, ‘Has anybody heard anything since coming to Nashville that might make a good song title?'” Kenny said. “This one girl said, ‘We went to the Wild Horse Saloon last night and it hadn’t been 10 minutes before this cowboy came up and said, ‘Hey darlin’, you wanna save a horse and ride a cowboy?’ … John and I looked at each other and said, ‘Well, that’s our song. That’s gotta be written.’ Within the next hour, right there in front of them, we wrote that song and it turned out to be our ‘Stairway to Heaven,’ our ‘Sweet Home Alabama,’ you gotta play it.”
In addition to party anthems, they could also do serious topics, tackling abuse in “Holy Water.”
“Life’s not all fun and games,” Kenny said. “Country music has been able to breach and talk about things that are super important, emotional issues in people’s lives. In the case of ‘Holy Water,’ it was abuse. … It seemed like almost half the girls you talked to in our lives had been through these horrific situations and it seemed like music was the one thing that could bring some closure or comfort or compassion to that issue, so the song ‘Holy Water’ came about.”
The same goes for their 2006 hit single “8th of November” about a Vietnam veteran from the 173rd U.S. Airborne Brigade during Operation Hump in South Vietnam on Nov. 8, 1965.
“It’s the story of a Vietnam vet that John and I met in Deadwood, South Dakota named Niles Harris, who was a bartender there,” Kenny said. “He said, ‘You guys oughta write a song about this,’ so sitting there in Deadwood, we wrote that chorus. … Then we actually traveled back to Vietnam with him to where he was wounded that day. … We got our friends Lynyrd Skynyrd and Gretchen Wilson to help us out for a show in Atlanta, Georgia, and raised enough to finish off the budget to build the memorial for the 173rd Airborne down in Fort Benning, Georgia.”
Now, he’s honoring veterans and first responders at the Congressional Baseball Game.
“That’s all personal to me because of family members who have served,” Kenny said. “Me and my father helped build our volunteer firehall in my hometown of Salem inside of Culpeper. I’ve got relationships with veterans and military folks for years and years now. Those are all just people on the front lines that should be really important to all of us, so that’s another reason that makes it super exciting to be here and be a part of the congressional game.”
Just a day later, Bowie resident Ginuwine will throw out the first pitch for the Bowie Baysox.
“I’m throwing out the first pitch, doing a meet and greet, and just saying hello to the fans,” Ginuwine told WTOP. “It’s been a while since I’ve done something like that and since it’s right up the street, I was like, ‘Yeah, I gotta be a part of that.” Looking forward to seeing everybody.”
Is he ready for the first pitch? Does he have his windup down?
“I definitely know how to throw, so we’re not going to have that problem,” Ginuwine joked. “[I played] one year in high school, one year in junior high school and just going out for gym to play softball, but nothing professional. I still can throw though. I know how to throw a ball. But yeah, I’ve seen some of the epic fails and I’m like, ‘How the hell did that happen?'”
Ironically, he was actually named after legendary D.C. basketball player Elgin Baylor.
“My father and my mom were [fans] and named me after him,” Ginuwine said. “I guess they wanted me to play basketball or something, but instead I sang, performed and entertained. Either way, I’m happy about it. … I always wanted to entertain. Once I saw the girls start screaming and how the girls loved me, I was like, ‘Oop, this is what I want to do right here.”
Growing up in D.C., he played music and studied law at Prince George’s Community College.
“The music thing was always something that was within me,” Ginuwine said. “I was in a go-go band, then I was in a break dancing group, then a singing group. … It’s a long shot. Even if you get the opportunity, there’s not a lot of people that actually ‘make it,’ as they say. So I either wanted to be an entertainment lawyer or just be around it. I always felt like if I was around it, I’d get a better opportunity. I was just weighing my bets, just trying to get in there somehow.”
He later moved to Rochester to work alongside Missy Elliott and Timbaland in the Swing Mob.
“We were all trying to make it,” Ginuwine said. “DeVanté Swing had a label and was going around the country looking for talent. He came to D.C. and found me. He came to Virginia and found Missy and Timbaland. We moved up to New Jersey with him [and] the rest is history.”
Timbaland produced his platinum debut album “Ginuwine … The Bachelor” (1996) with the smash hit “Pony,” which topped the R&B charts and reached No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100.
“That song is going to outlive me, you and everybody else,” Ginuwine said. “That’s one of those songs that’s going to be here a long time. It came at the right time when music was just changing. Timbaland pretty much changed music. When he did the double beat thing and he came with the new music, he changed music. That’s something that will never be duplicated.”
Soon, he began recording with hip-hop legends, including P. Diddy’s “I Need a Girl (Part II).”
“He called me and gave me the option of doing the first part or the [second], and I picked the second because I felt like it was more energetic and more my lane,” Ginuwine said. “I did that, I worked with Nas, quite a few people. … Diddy is more of a party person; Nas is more laid back. I wasn’t in the studio with neither one of them. That was around the time where you were able to send it through the internet … but we of course did the video together.”
Such music videos eventually led to film and TV, including three episodes of “Moesha.”
“As far as the acting stuff, that’s something I really grew into doing,” Ginuwine said. “When you’re doing your music videos and all that kind of stuff, you pretty much get that bug of acting. Then things come your way. A lot of things come your way when you are successful.”
When it’s all said and done, what does he want to be remembered for?
“Just a total entertainer,” he said. “Someone who wanted to leave it all out on the stage.”
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