When Jennifer Trent entered a 4-H competition at the age of 14, she never dreamed that it would be instrumental in steering her towards a life-long musical career. While growing up on Steadman Farm in Blountville where her father was the foreman, Jennifer raised a Simmental-Angus steer she named Grease. When Grease was 15 months old and weighed over 1,000 pounds, Jennifer’s family brought him to a state cattle show in Nashville. Her brother, Ned, showed Grease that day, since the steer had become agitated and jumpy.
“I wasn’t much taller than the steer,” Jennifer laughed. To her surprise, they won the competition against 396 other steers. She was awarded $1,000 and sold the steer for over $5,000, a record price at that time. But even more surprising was what the enterprising eighth-grader bought with her winnings.
“I am a little bit of a dreamer and had always wanted a baby grand,” Jennifer said. So she and her father, Jerry Morrell, went piano shopping.
“My dad saw a black piano in the back of the store. The piano was from King College and had been reconditioned and in perfect shape. He made an offer and the rest is history!” she added.
Jennifer graduated from Carson-Newman College with a music degree, which she said was unusual at that time. “Back when I went to college it was very taboo for a woman to be in that type of ministry. I remember walking in and they said, ‘What are you going to do? You can’t work in a church!” she said. However, she became the music minister of Glen Alpine United Methodist Church in Kingsport where she served for 27 years. “I felt called,” she said.
Throughout high school, Jennifer cultivated her musical talent as she attended music camp during the summers at the Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center in North Carolina. It was there that she became a member of the singing group, The Glenn Draper Singers. A self-proclaimed ‘home-grown country girl,’ Jennifer would eventually go across the world with the group singing for Billy Graham Crusades.
Between 1984 and 1997, they traveled to Russia, Israel, England, Jamaica and Finland, as well as all over the United States. Jennifer shared that the 1993 crusade in Moscow, Russia, left quite an impression on her.
“We take being able to worship for granted. But in Russia, the people were so hungry for the Word. I have never seen anything like it,” she said. “We were going in a back door to do a sound check and people were standing in line to get in. A man literally picked me up and set me aside to get in.” Jennifer recalled that after Billy Graham gave the message and invitation, the crowd surged forward.
“The people were literally running to the altar. It was the most amazing thing I’ve ever experienced in my life,” she said.
Once again, Jennifer will have the opportunity to sing at a Graham crusade. Only this time, Billy Graham’s grandson, Will Graham, will be bringing the message. Reportedly, Will Graham is very much like his famous grandfather Billy Graham, who just recently passed away.
“He is so much like his grandfather - his style and mannerisms, as well as his straightforward love of Jesus,” Jennifer said. The crusade, which Will Graham calls a ‘Celebration,’ will take place April 27-29 at Freedom Hall Civic Center in Johnson City. Jennifer will be singing during the Sunday afternoon pre-service, which she considers to be quite an honor.
“It was such an honor for me to sing for Billy Graham, and now for this celebration,” she said.
Although she is now retired from her music minister position, Jennifer said she stays very busy. A breast cancer survivor of four years, she worked all but a week or two throughout treatment. “I don’t let grass grow under my feet! I want to be totally spent when I leave this world,” she said.
Jennifer sings for ladies’ retreats and nursing homes, attends Bible study, is self-employed, and loves being a grandma. In addition, she also recently started writing her own music. “For so many years I’ve done everybody else’s music, so I want to write my own,” she said.
Despite her accomplishments and many talents, Jennifer remains humble and grateful for all she has been able to do.
“I have to say how much I appreciate my brothers Nathan, Ned and Neal; my parents, Jerry and Linda Morrell; and my husband, Brian Trent, for supporting me through all my travels,” she said. “But most of all, I thank God for being the reason I sing,” she added. As she sat at the same Steinway piano she bought as a young girl, Jennifer played and sang an old familiar hymn. Afterwards, she said, “I am most happy when I am singing about Jesus.”