KAYSVILLE — When Katherine Nelson was a little girl growing up in southern California, she told her mother, "Someday I'm going to have a song on the radio."
Life has taken her to many places since then, from moving to Utah after high school to sing with local artist Kenneth Cope to Salt Lake Community College, marriage and family, further opportunities to sing, and an originally unplanned acting career. Cope's early support provided a fundamental influence in Nelson's musical career.
"It fueled my desire to get into songwriting. It took a lot of bumps in the road and a lot of years to get here, but I think I'm the songwriter I always wanted to be," Nelson said, adding an observation about her life in general: "I'm happy where I am."
Balancing her singing and acting careers with spending time with her husband and four kids is tricky, she said, but by trying to be open to the Spirit and only taking on what they think they can handle, the family manages. Whenever there is extra time, Nelson said they typically spend it together.
"Our family time is sacred," she said.
Nelson recorded her first CD with Shadow Mountain Records in 2003, "Sometimes He Lets It Rain." A few years later, she landed the starring role of Emma in "Joseph Smith: The Prophet of the Restoration" and "Emma Smith: My Story," a 2008 film based on the life of Emma Hale Smith, the wife of Joseph Smith Jr., who restored The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She had acted for film once before in a 2004 "Liken the Scriptures" film, but Nelson doesn't consider it much preparation for portraying Emma. Instead, as she related to the Deseret News in 2010, she read everything about Emma she could find, took the advice of director Gary Cook to "just love her (Emma)," and listened to the Spirit.
Her newest recorded album, "Born Brave," is particularly written for women. Nelson, who had a hand in writing nine of the 11 tracks, said the topic was inspired by her experience playing Emma and by the charity and compassion shown her by women in her life while she and her husband were undergoing a difficult trial.
"The whole idea is, when you strengthen women, you strengthen the world," Nelson said. "I wanted music that would literally uplift — that would kick their buns out of bed in the morning and say, 'You have purpose and value.'"
So that's what she wrote, using the Americana style (a blend of country, folk, bluegrass and blues) she is most comfortable in. After working for three years on the album, she is very happy with the end result.
"It is different. It doesn't fit the square peg of church music. I wanted to make sure I could write something for the lady on the front row at church and the lady on a smoke break at 7-Eleven, you know? I didn't want barriers. I didn't want listeners to have to be a certain religion to feel uplifted," Nelson said. "It seemed before I was singing because I could sing, whereas now it's because I believe in what I sing and I want to shout the message from the rooftops."
Nelson named several people in her life whose influences helped her get where she is today: Her father believes wholeheartedly in her and each of her seven siblings, her mother "taught (her) a lot about grace" and appreciated her talent, her four sisters are there when she's overwhelmed, and her husband is "a great supporter," she says. "He's always on the front row."
Nelson has also performed with the Nashville Tribute Band, a revolving group of musical artists regularly formed by songwriter/producer Jason Deere, for the past four years. Deere was first introduced to Nelson through her role in "Emma." The first time Deere asked her to sing with the band was well received, and "they just kept asking me back," Nelson explained.
Deere produced Nelson's new CD with LDS record label R Legacy Entertainment.
"Besides being overall lifted and strengthened, I think one of the most powerful messages I've learned and want to pass on is that we are surrounded with circles of women on Earth who lift and support and help carry the burdens that are on our shoulders," Nelson said, "And beyond that, there's an army of women with us from the other side who do the same."
Going forward, Nelson's No. 1 goal is "to never stop writing, never stop chasing the beauty in creating. As much as I try to give back to Heavenly Father with the talents I have, I will always be receiving more," she said. "I feel I receive the greatest part of the gift, even though it's mine to give to others."