From Omaha to Nashville, singer, dancer, songwriter and performer, Kelli Belle, has made a name for herself.
Following in the footsteps of all the women in her family including her grandmother, mother and aunts, she grew up surrounded by music. Her mother, and the other part of the Belles duo, Jaymie Belle, was formerly a part of the group Mulberry Lane, along with her three sisters. The Rizutto sisters were a well-known Omaha group formed in 1999, who eventually got a record deal in Los Angeles.
Coming from a family of vocalists, performing was second nature for Kelli. Stepping on stage felt like home to her. The favorite part of Kelli’s day was always going to theater practice, dancing or singing. She was a part of shows at the Rose Theater and the Omaha Community Playhouse. She also took dance lessons at Jessalyn Siwa’s dance studio, with her daughter, internet personality, JoJo Siwa. This mother-daughter duo is best known for appearing on the television show “Dance Moms.”
Despite Kelli’s background and family connection in performing, it wasn’t an obvious choice for her to take off and follow her dreams to Nashville right away. Kelli graduated from Westside high school at 16 years old. She enrolled at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, with a major in chemistry. Kelli loved math and science almost as much as she loved singing and performing. She thought about pursuing the pre-med track, but she couldn’t shake her love for performing. After a tough decision between staying in school and following her dreams, Kelli decided to give Nashville a try.
“My brain was so split in two directions, I knew I had to pick one,” Kelli says. “Then, I decided I can always go back to chemistry, but I might not get another chance to move to Nashville.”
Once in Nashville, Kelli started writing songs and ingraining herself in the songwriting community. She played writer’s rounds and shows whenever she could. Suddenly, a major opportunity came her way: JoJo Siwa asked Kelli to join her on tour. JoJo and Kelli have been good friends and have known each since they were babies. JoJo reached out asking the Belles to open in her arena tour: D.R.E.A.M.
The tour was so successful that the shows kept selling out. It was a huge success for the two Omaha girls. Not only did JoJo have the Omaha native Belles open for her, but a lot of the crew and dancers also hailed from Omaha. The tour resumed in 2022 after a two-year break during the pandemic. A major goal of Kelli’s was to play in an arena, and her first arena show was in Florida on the tour.
“Walking onto the stage and seeing the sea of lights was everything I ever dreamed of,” Kelli says.
During the two-year tour break, Kelli leaned into her songwriting. She wrote a song every day, co-writing with whoever she could through Zoom. Her brother also joined the band during this time because he shared their love for singing and writing. The tour continued until March 2022 when Kelli began her solo career. Her family remains involved and plays in all of her shows.
“From an artistic perspective, the songs I was writing were really me,” Kelli says. “I felt like the natural progression for me is to continue on as a solo act.”
Since then, Kelli has opened for big-name country music stars such as Miranda Lambert. She opened for Lambert in North Platte, Nebraska at NEBRASKAland Days. Kelli says that experience was inspirational because she’s looked up to Lambert since she was a kid.
Not only does she look up to other major female country artists, but she also looks up to her own family of strong female performers; she is so proud to follow in their footsteps. Kelli admits the music industry can be a tough scene at times. One of the best and worst parts of music is that it doesn’t always have a straightforward path. While that can be frustrating and scary at times, Kelli says it makes everyone in the industry’s stories so diverse.
“Walking blindly is a hard part, but also fun,” she says. “Because you never know what’s going to happen next.”
Kelli says meeting her own fans is one of the most surreal experiences. She always wanted to inspire others and dreamed fans would connect with her music. TikTok has been a major way that she’s connected with fans. Kelli has more than 325,000 followers. She focused on growing and promoting herself during the pandemic. She continues to create social media content and promote her new songs.
“It’s really cool that I get to be a part of these people’s lives and that they connect to my songs,” Kelli says.
Although most people Kelli meets in Nashville have never met a Cornhusker native, it isn’t too far removed from her Nebraska roots. Kelli is a part of the Nashville Huskers, a community of Nebraska natives living in Nashville who get together every weekend to watch the games. She loves representing Nebraska and owes her success to the state. Kelli started playing venues in Omaha such as the Admiral, formerly known as the Slowdown, and the Waiting Room. She also recorded in many local studios before moving to Nashville.
“It was a great place to grow up and so many people have helped me get to where I am today,” Kelli says. “It was instrumental for building my passion and allowing me to believe that I could actually do this for my job.”
Recently, Kelli debuted a music video on CMT and signed with Empire Records. She also began filming a residency show called, “She Believed She Could.” The residency show means she gets to play at a theater in Nashville for six months, along with six other female artists. They each sing a song of their own and then a song from a classic female artist. This mix honors both past and current female country music artists.
Kelli also recently released a song called “The Leaver.” In the future she says she hopes to go on the road and open for other big country artists. Most importantly, she wants to keep writing songs and one day go on her own tours.
“I just want to keep connecting with people,” Kelli says. “I think that’s the most important thing.” ◆