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Singer Kelly Lang Reflects On Music, Battling Cancer & Her Friendship With Olivia Newton-John

Music has been an integral part of Kelly Lang’s life as far back as she can remember. The longtime singer/songwriter, who has recorded several albums of her own and written songs for George Jones, Ricky Skaggs, Crystal Gayle, her husband T. G. Sheppard and others, says her earliest childhood memories are centered around music.

She was eight years old when her dad, who worked as road manager for the late Conway Twitty, moved the family from Oklahoma (where Twitty was based at the time) to Hendersonville, Tennessee, north of Nashville.

“I was one year old when my dad began working with Conway, so I don’t remember life without him,” Lang says. “I remember being able to sit backstage and listen to the crowd just scream and go crazy when he walked out on stage. He didn’t even have to say a word, he would just stand there. He had this ability to make people emotionally lose their minds just by walking out on stage.”

A country music superstar to fans around the world, Twitty was a kind, loving, and ever-present family friend who would often sit and drink coffee at the Lang family kitchen table. He would often talk about songs he was planning to record.

Conway Twitty
UNSPECIFIED - Photo of Conway TWITTY (Photo by Mike Prior/Redferns)REDFERNS
“One of my favorite memories,” Lang recalls, “is him sitting at his house on a black leather couch. He had on these beautiful patent leather shoes and was singing the song, “You’ve Never Been This Far Before. He was singing the bass part “boom, boom, boom” and as he sang it, he told us, ‘That won’t be me singing it on the record, it will just be the bass part.’ Well, it’s history now, and he actually did sing it, but at the time, he was just trying to explain the bassline to us.”

Twitty was “an amazing force” who provided both influence and inspiration to Lang. So much so she would go on to pursue her own career in music. Fans of the TV show Star Search hosted by Ed McMann may remember Lang as a three-time winner in the 1980s. She’s recorded several albums, performed numerous times at the Grand Ole Opry, and shared the stage with music legends like Loretta Lynn, George Strait, Barry Gibb, and others. She’s also one of a long list of artists featured on a posthumous Olivia Newton-John duets album set for release May 5th.

“I’m so blessed to be part of Olivia Newton-John’s latest album,” Lang says. “It’s called Just The Two of Us and it’s duets she sang throughout her career. It has Dolly Parton, John Travolta, Barry Gibb, Mariah Carey, John Secada, and others.”

The album has Dolly and Olivia singing “Jolene,” Paul Anka and Olivia paired for “Hopelessly Devoted to You,” and Lang and Newton-John together for “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart,” just to name a few.

Cover of Olivia Newton-John duets album "Just The Two Of Us" set for release May 5th

Lang and Newton-John were close friends who bonded, initially because both had battled breast cancer.

“I think every woman who goes through breast cancer, when they find out about one another’s journey, they find themselves with a different connection than normal, it’s like a sisterhood,” Lang says.

“I met Olivia through our mutual friend Barry Gibb, through Barry’s wife, Linda. She said, ‘Olivia, this is Kelly and she’s had breast cancer, too.’ And so, Olivia and I started talking about that our first time together.”

Lang says Newton-John had a great sense of humor. When she asked Lang whether she’d had chemo as part of her treatment, Lang told her she had but opted to stop it earlier than doctors recommended. Newton-John was quick to respond.

“Without missing a beat, Olivia began singing the “Beauty School Dropout,” song from Grease, but she changed the words. Olivia sang ‘Che-mo dropout.’ She was so quick-witted, you know?”

Newton-John lost her battle with cancer in August of 2022 and Lang still mourns her loss.

Olivia Newton-John and Kelly Lang
Olivia Newton-John and Kelly Lang

“She was a magic person and I miss her every day. She lived each day like a radiant punch of sunshine and I learned so much from her. If anything turned negative she would flip the switch immediately. When you’re friends with somebody like her, and I’m not even talking famous, I’m just talking about her essence, when you have the blessing to be in the presence of someone like that, it’s mind-blowing. And it doesn’t go away.”

Lang writes about her friendship with Newton-John, her own battle with breast cancer, and her life in music, in her book “I’m Not Going Anywhere.” She published the book in 2021 and has just released the audiobook.

Langs goes into detail about discovering she had breast cancer only after her own instincts kept telling her something wasn’t quite right. She shares her emotions, her struggles, her treatment, and some of the disagreements she had with doctors about treatment choices.

“The reason I decided to be so honest and personal is because I would have given anything if I’d had someone to talk to me bluntly when I was going through it. I didn’t have that, so that’s why I decided to be so authentic with it."

She also details her life with country artist, T.G. Sheppard, who wasn’t her husband at the time she was diagnosed, but remained a strong, supportive force throughout the medical challenges she faced. There were financial challenges, too, and she touches on her gratitude to country artists who stepped forward to make sure she got help from organizations like the Opry Trust Fund and Musicares.

“I had been out of the music industry for some time because I’d been through a divorce and was raising my daughters, and Jeannie Seely and Marty Stuart reached out to make sure I could pay my bills.”

Her book is called “I’m Not Going Anywhere” and relates to her health journey but actually comes from a song she wrote a long time ago.

“I wrote that song years before I was diagnosed with breast cancer,” Lang says. “Crystal Gayle and T.G. (Sheppard) cut it and it ended up in a Burt Reynolds movie (The Deal). I thought it was one and done, but it came out as a national commercial for Ascension Hospitals.

During the pandemic it became really special because people were having to leave their loved ones in hospitals, and they’d listen to that song. It became endearing to hear, “I’m Not Going Anywhere.”

Lang says it served as a mantra during her own health battle and acts as a theme of sorts for her life, as well as her career. She’s currently working on an album called Old Soul II, a collection of classic songs that follows an earlier Old Soul I record. She has an EP of inspirational songs she’s completed with the first song, one she wrote called “I Think It’s Jesus,” set for release in June. And she and her husband are working on a duet album planned for later this year.

Husband and wife, T.G. Sheppard and Kelly Lang, performing together.
Husband and wife, T.G. Sheppard and Kelly Lang, performing together.

Music continues to be a consistent thread throughout everything she does.

“Music is just so healing and powerful,” she says. “I’m just grateful to be part of it.”

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