WHY WE LOVE HER: She pursued her dream of being a singer, despite working two jobs as the single mom of four. Now that her career is taking off, she’s encouraging other parents to hold on to their dreams, even as they tend to tiny hearts.
Teen motherhood and single parenthood didn’t exactly ruin Kimberly Henderson’s life. Pregnant at 16, the Sumter, South Carolina native decided to keep the child, marry her sweetheart and stay in school. Ten years and four kids later, she’s a single mom with a single, “Tiny Hearts,” at the top of the iTunes singer-songwriter chart. The rising star, now 27, doesn’t have much patience for the negative stereotypes. “I think it’s empowering to be a single parent,” she says.
“People look down on single moms,” Kimberly concedes. She’s been called names. But she has her own label for single moms (and dads): Superheros. “You’re just one person, you’re providing, you’re going to sick visits and soccer practice,” she says. “It shows strength and determination – and you know, a lot of women can’t do it and they’re married!”
The week of Thanksgiving last year, Kimberly’s youngest daughter, Vaida, 1, was having trouble getting to sleep, and Kimberly was singing to her in the kitchen, as usual. She decided to record it, just to have the memory of those late nights. She sang Sam Smith’s arrangement of Whitney Houston’s “How Will I Know?” as she rocked her baby girl to sleep.
“My sister was in the room next to me and she said, ‘Kim, that was really good, you should post it on Facebook.’” Kimberly hesitated. “I was tired and I didn’t have any makeup on,” she confesses. She wasn’t thrilled to have anyone outside the family see her like that. Then, she remembers, she just thought, “whatever,” and uploaded it.
The video is indeed totally raw – bad lighting, terrible camera angle – and it is achingly beautiful. Vaida’s blue eyes go from wide open to fluttering shut as her mom rocks her and sings with a voice that’s astonishingly expressive. The post went viral on Facebook starting December 12 – within a week there were 20 million views. On Youtube, there are 2.9 million hits and counting.
Kimberly still has her day job: She works 8-3 as a certified medical assistant in a doctor’s office and moonlights as a waitress in an oyster bar for extra cash. And she’s still the one taking care of her kids – when Singlewith caught up with her she was at home, apologizing for multiple interruptions, “Sorry, I’m trying to do five things at once,” chasing the baby and welcoming the older kids home from school.
For the most part, Kimberly’s life is still pretty much the life of any parent, single or otherwise. Basketball season just ended, she says, and the kids are all playing soccer now. With four kids –Kayleigh, almost 10, Brianna, 9, Aiden, 5, and little Vaida – Kimberly says it can be hard to go out on weekends, though they do sometimes. More often, they’ll stay home and do karaoke night—all the kids like to sing – or movie night, with popcorn and candy. What’s the favorite movie? Frozen, Kimberly says, with a sigh. “Even the little boy is all about it,” she says. “It’s stressful.” (Recently, on her Facebook page, Kimberly posted the hilarious viral video of the North Carolina mom who was totally fed up with Frozen. Who can’t relate?) But things are starting to change.
“I wanted single moms and single dads … to have a song they can relate to.”
Cosco Kids, the baby products company, found out that a couple of months before the lullaby video went viral, Kimberly was in a serious car accident, and a Cosco carseat likely saved Vaida’s life. The company decided to take it a step further and help launch Kimberly’s singing career. They partnered with Break Entertainment, an artist development company, and flew Kimberly (and Vaida) out to Los Angeles in early January to record her first single, “Tiny Hearts.” The song reached number 5 on the iTunes singer/songwriter chart last week. Now Kimberly’s plans for nursing school are on hold as major record labels fly her in for meetings.
“Tiny Hearts” started with a song Kimberly had written in high school, and she and the team in L.A. took some lyrics from that and wrote the rest from scratch. It’s about that time when she was 17 and all her friends were going out on dates, and she was home feeding a 6-month-old, she says. And the similar feelings she’s experienced since then, as her family has grown – feelings most parents can relate to, if they’re honest with themselves. The lyrics express a wistfulness about the life she’s missing out on, but the solid conclusion that being there for your kids is more important than anything else. “There are a lot of single moms out there that work their butts off and they have dreams… but at the end of the day, being a mom comes first,” says Kimberly. As the song puts it: “I know who I am…tiny hearts are in my hand.”
“I wanted my first song to be something meaningful that inspired me,” Kimberly says. “I wanted single moms and single dads, and parents and grandparents, to have a song that they can relate to,” she adds. “Maybe this can be our song, in the way that ‘All About that Bass’ speaks to not having to be a size zero or two to be pretty in the world.”
“You’re thinking in the back of your head, ‘I’m a mom, I can’t do this.'”
While Kimberly’s current fame was sparked by the viral video, she’s not exactly an overnight success. She’s been working on her dream for years, now. “I work two jobs because I have to, but I have really always wanted to be a singer, and luckily I’ve had support.” The first time she sang live, it was in 2011 at open mic night at Pizza Lane, a restaurant in her hometown. “It’s really small, like a country town,” she says of Sumter. Since then she continued to do little singing gigs, no more than once a week, at places in Sumter like Hamptons, a fine-dining restaurant, and J O’Grady’s, a burger, barbecue and beer place. Occasionally she’d travel to nearby cities like Charlotte, NC, and Columbia, SC, for a gig, and she auditioned three times for American Idol, getting turned down each time. She didn’t give up, but “at the same time, you’re thinking in the back of your head, ‘I’m a mom, I can’t do this,’” Kimberly admits.
In fact, until her video went viral, Kimberly hadn’t been able to pursue singing more aggressively because she has needed to be there for little Vaida and her other kids. Life has been good, but it hasn’t been perfect. Kimberly’s marriage to her high school sweetheartlasted “six or seven years,” she says. “Being young, it didn’t work out.” Then Aiden came along. “I was in some bad relationships,” she says. When she got pregnant with Vaida, she was on birth control, and thought, “I cannot do this.” The father was not in the picture and Kimberly almost went through with an abortion, but decided against it at the last minute. All of the kids’ dads are in their lives now, but Kimberly, who has been “officially single” for two years, has full custody of all four. She’s a hands-on mom and wouldn’t want it any other way.
But Kimberly has a message for other single moms (and single dads – she’s gotten a lot of messages from dads who say they can relate to “Tiny Hearts”): “Don’t forget who you are, and don’t give up on your dreams.” Over the years, people have asked her how she finds time to sing. “If you really care about something, you make time for it,” she says. “It doesn’t make you selfish. I would pick one night a week and do this. It was my relaxation – though I didn’t always get sleep.” Kids come first, in Kimberly’s world, but she believes in finding a balance somehow. “You gotta have time for yourself.”
In the end, Kimberly says, “It’s crazy. It’s like being a mom made my dream happen for me.”
All photos courtesy Kimberly Henderson.