Having a father in the Gospel Music industry gave little Jackie Newton (Harling) a directed path to stardom. As she grew up being pruned for the music business, her life would take a turn and Jackie bowed out of becoming a star.
Born in Western Kentucky in the city of Murray, Jackie grew up listening to the awe-inspiring melodies resonating from her Hall of Fame father Calvin Newton. Calvin has been a professional gospel singer since he was a teenager and sang with various gospel groups such as the Blackwood Brothers, the Sons of Song and the Oakridge Quartet (before they became the Oakridge Boys). Jackie’s mother Joyce had trained to be a concert pianist, but while raising her family she chose to accompany her husband’s endeavors as he recorded his music and also began touring with the well-known family of gospel, the Gaithers.
Jackie and her older brother Wes grew up in a time without iPods, iPads or even cable television so they filled their time with music traveling to different churches with the Gospel groups their family was a part of.
“That was what I did with my weekends. I can just imagine how my 12-year-old would react if I told her we were going to churches to sing over the weekend,” Jackie laughs, “but I loved it and spent good, quality time with my family.”
The Newtons moved to Pulaski, Tennessee for a few years to live closer to Joyce’s parents, but when Joyce was offered a job with the city of Chattanooga where Calvin’s parents lived, they decided to relocate and remain here.
“I have always loved the music that my dad recorded on an 8-track. There was a song that Elvis did called the Trilogy. Glory, Glory Hallelujah…” Jackie sings, “and Daddy recorded a version of that song and Ray Stevens produced it. Ray and his wife sang back-up and it was so good. I wanted to listen to it all the time.”
Jackie credits learning to sing just from listening to her dad, but at age 10 she was instructed on singing harmony and, after the first lesson she could pick up harmony by ear.
As Jackie got older, she listened to other artists and WDOD Radio’s DJ Jerry Pond would give her free albums to listen to.
“There was a lot of boredom that needed to be filled and it occupied my time and gave me joy. I listened to Barbara Streisand, Elvis and the Moody Blues and …Pat Boone,” Jackie chuckles.
There are numerous videos on Youtube of Calvin singing with the Sons of Song, the Blackwood Brothers and more as well as a biography out called “Bad Boy of Gospel Music: The Calvin Newton Story” by Russ Cheatham in which Calvin shares his redemption journey.
When Jackie was a young girl, she tried to write a few songs but put the idea away until she was an adult.
Jackie met her husband Keith Harling at a recording studio where he was playing the saxophone and she was singing back-up vocals. She was just 16 years old, but after dating for three years the two married.
Jackie had been managed by Harland and Scarlett Adams. Harland was the grandson of the late Colonel Sanders. The couple never had children and took Jackie under their wings as they would have a beloved child of their own.
With her bold, yet honeyed voice and her outgoing personality, Jackie had been primed for the stage, but when the time came to take her music career farther and move to California, Jackie had a change of heart.
“What interrupted that plan was meeting my husband, which I am very glad it did. A lot of people in the entertainment industry can be successful, but not happy. You can see so much that takes away your innocence and your ability to be happy. I am really thankful that I didn’t make that move,” Jackie says.
Soon after the couple married, Keith, who had mostly worked in his family’s small businesses of upholstery and interior design, told his new bride that he wanted to try his hand as a singer/songwriter in Country music.
With Jackie growing up in the music scene and Keith was surrounded by a family of small business owners, the couple ironically traded careers.
Keith had been running a business selling blinds and Jackie wanted to step off the stage and help her husband in his business and be what she calls ‘a normal wife’.
“I felt safer in that supportive role. Being on stage really puts you in a vulnerable place. I can’t help but to want people to like me and being in the spotlight, you leave yourself open to criticism and I was uncomfortable with that. I was no longer happy being the center of attention,” Jackie says. “Now, people don’t know me as Jackie Harling as much as they know me as Calvin’s daughter, Keith’s wife or Samantha’s mom …and I am really comfortable with that.”
Keith began working on his music, while on the side he was doing the work in what he was groomed to do.
“Keith had gotten a record deal on a country label called MCA - the same label George Strait was with and, it was kind of a big deal. In ’98 Keith had a pretty big hit called ‘Papa Bear’ that he sang and wrote. I helped him with his music and helped write his songs. Over the years he has gotten better and better at it - we both have. Writing with him is my favorite thing to do,” Jackie says.
Though it took years for Keith to get a record deal, once his song became a hit life was a whirlwind and success came quickly as Keith started touring.
Three years after Keith’s music career took off the couple had their daughter Samantha and the music industry was changing. As online music became available it was being stolen and several recording studios had to close their doors.
“It was a very rough time for new artists,” Jackie insists. “It was really a miracle for him to achieve the success that he got at that time. He was the highest debuting artist in that year and was shooting straight for the top.”
When Universal and MCA merged a lot of changes happened in the music business. The entire label of DECCA (Dolly Parton’s label) was shut down and over 3,000 people lost their jobs.
Several clients with MCA and across the board lost record deals and Keith hadn’t had time to build on his new success and lost his deal in that merger.
Keith then signed with Giant Records, a label Neil McCoy and Clay Walker were with, and worked hard on his new album, but before that record could be released the label closed its doors.
“We started to sense a trend that no matter how hard we worked, or how good we were at what we did (and to be ethical in the way we did it) there just didn’t seem to be a lot of job security in the music business at that time,” Jackie says.
Undoubtedly discouraged and with a baby on the way, the couple had a back-up plan and in 2001 they launched their window covering business The Blind Express.
Though Jackie was happy in her supportive role in the music business, she was just as happy helping to run a business and having some down time to focus on family and what was most important to her.
Keith had played at Riverbend on the Coca-Cola stage in 2000 and that year, Jackie got to know the executive director of Friends of the Festival Chip Baker and convinced him to have a tent for pet adoption for the next festival.
“I love animals and have a big passion for them. I was on the board of directors for the Humane Society for seven years and we had just hired Guy Bilyeu as director and he really turned it around, but he recently passed away from injuries in a bicycle accident,” Jackie says regretfully.
The first year that Riverbend held the ‘adopt-a-pet’ tent drive, 45 animals were placed in homes and there has been a pet adoption tent ever since and has proved successful.
When the couple began their window covering business the after effects of 9/11 were prevalent, but they didn’t let that discourage them.
“This is what Keith was doing before he got into the music business so it wasn’t like we were going into something ‘blind’,” Jackie puns.
“But the latest recession of 2008 we DID notice … oh my word. Needless to say, our spiritual life is very strong, “Jackie laughs. “We have a lot of faith and we have had a lot of miracles in our lives. A business surviving that time is a miracle in itself, but that’s where ‘blind faith’ comes through. We really live by faith. So many bad things could have happened that didn’t.”
Shortly after Samantha was born, Jackie found out she had PVC’s with her heart beat. Her heart would skip every third beat and try to catch up so she felt the butterfly-flutter feeling in her chest.
Medication didn’t seem to help and actually made Jackie feel worse, so her cardiologist suggested surgery to ablate the extra nerve in her heart.
“Two days before my surgery, I was really worrying about it and thinking of the possible risks involved - especially with having a little girl. It wasn’t a major surgery like a by-pass, but I was still concerned,” Jackie says.
She was in Nashville taping a Gaither Friends special. At the close of the show, the group always gathers for prayer and Jackie shared with her friend Sonya Isaacs that she would like prayer concerning her heart condition.
“Sonya was praying for my heart to be healed. She had tears and it was a long prayer and I felt the urge to pray with her. After making the video we went home and I felt really bad – like a weight on my chest and it was hard to breath and I had a burning pressure. I was terrified that I was going to have a heart attack and the next day, I went to have my operation they put a heart cath in and hooked me up to everything and my heart was not skipping. They put me in the surgery room and pumped me full of medicine that was supposed to induce my heart to skip – and nothing they could do would make my heart skip. I was grinning like an absolute idiot! I knew what had happened,” Jackie says triumphantly.
“With it being a Christian hospital the doctors knew too, and were saying, ‘We’ve seen this before… you have had a miracle.’ I couldn’t keep from smiling and that incident changed our lives,” Jackie says.
At first, she was afraid that if she did one wrong thing, that God would ‘take back’ His miracle, but Jackie realized that God would not receive glory in doing that found peace knowing He healed her because He wanted to – not from anything she had done.
With the ups and downs of their music career and the recessions their window covering business faced; when Jackie received healing of her heart and had no problems with it since, she and Keith have a much stronger faith than ever before.
“The love thy neighbor verse is what my husband and I live by - it comes naturally for us to love people and help them. We like to serve people and their needs. Whenever God puts someone in my life, I try to make things better for that person,” Jackie says. “You don’t have to be up on the stage to affect the lives of people and that gives me purpose.”