June 1, 1997 in Features

Ex-Teen Phenom Kippi Brannon Making Comeback

Jim Patterson Associated Press

Between Tanya Tucker and LeAnn Rimes there was another teen phenomenon in country music named Kippi Brannon.

Brannon hit the charts with three records in 1981-82, but quit without making near the impact of Tucker and Rimes. She walked away because she wanted to be a teenager again, and then go to college.

Fifteen years later, she’s back with a hit single that is the most talked-about country record of the moment.

“Daddy’s Little Girl” marks quite a comeback for a performer discovered singing in a shopping mall when she was 12. Brannon opened shows in those days for The Oak Ridge Boys, Conway Twitty and George Strait.

Much like Rimes today and Tucker in the 1970s, youth was her selling point. She passed on a debut album, saying she wanted “a normal situation” rather than a career in 1982.

She was 15 then. Now she’s 31.

“Come on, I’m still a kid,” Brannon said with a laugh after bounding into a Nashville restaurant to talk about what she’s been doing for the past 15 years.

After slipping out of the public eye, Brannon earned a college degree and started taking prelaw courses. She also got married and divorced twice, and mothered a child - Kasey, 9. She struggled to get by on temporary jobs, and for a time was the top car-buffer salesperson at Sears.

“My life didn’t turn out exactly how I was hoping that it would,” Brannon said. “If you would have told me at 16 that I was going to end up married twice and have a little girl and be a single mom, I would have laughed in your face.

“There have been some challenges, but for the most part that was the best thing I ever did for myself, was getting a big dose of normal for myself. It kept me very grounded.”

She grew up in Nashville’s suburbs where she was classmates with two other eventual country singers, Deana Carter and Mila Mason.

All the signs are there for “Daddy’s Little Girl” to be a major comeback hit. It’s been selling briskly, steadily moving up the charts, and when it’s played on the radio, phones start ringing in response.

“This is a song that has goose bumps written all over it,” said John Sebastian, program director at KZLA in Glendale, Calif.

Brannon, a fan of the big ballads of Celine Dion, said she recorded the song because, as an only child, she is a confirmed “daddy’s little girl.” The ballad is as unabashedly sentimental as any Barry Manilow hit.

“From an artist’s standpoint, that’s the greatest compliment you can give me.”

Curb-Universal Records recently released Brannon’s first album. Besides “Daddy’s Little Girl,” the standout song is title cut “I’d Be With You,” a canny effort to make a record to please Shania Twain fans who are awaiting that million-seller’s next album.

Brannon is frank that her decision to start singing again wasn’t totally an artistic one, though she says she always knew she’d return down the line.

“When I got my first divorce, I was 22 years old and here I was with a 3-year-old and I didn’t know how I was going to support her other than 9-to-5 jobs that were making minimum wage. It was very difficult to make ends meet.

“At that point, bottom of the barrel kind of thing, I said, ‘OK, I need to get back into it.’ I had missed it, coupled with the fact that I needed a career.”

The second time around, it wasn’t as simple as being discovered at a shopping mall. She has been working with Curb since 1988, but major obstacles kept popping up.

A management shake-up at Curb slowed things for a while, as did Brannon’s search for a producer. Then her father got sick with heart trouble, and no progress was made while she took care of him. Her second divorce put everything on hold after that.

“Daddy’s Little Girl” has thrust Brannon back into the limelight as quickly as she disappeared. She says she’s wiser this time, but that has a downside.

“When you are 15 you don’t appreciate what a feat that is to chart a record,” Brannon said.

“At 31, I probably come into this experience a little more prepared. On the flip side, however, I’m a lot more scared than I was in the beginning.

“Now I have a little girl that depends on me for support financially and emotionally and so forth, and that’s another thing that weighs on my mind some, too.

“Can I provide for her with this career? It just gives it a little more pressure.”

Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email