Young Kara was an eager performing artist. After a only few years of lessons, she was busy recruiting her younger brother and only playmate Grant to join in her living room music productions. He looked fantastic decked out as Dolly Parton in the heavily choreographed tribute to the movie 9 to 5.

At home in Chicago.

Provided music for Obama fundraiser in Chicago. Jacob and Emily Sweet, Barack Obama, Kara Kesselring, and Pat Williams.

With Sugarcreek Road.

The happy family: Iris, Kara, and Pat.


Built like a string bean and precocious as all get out, young Kara began her musical journey at the tender age of seven. The skies surrounding her little corner of Southeast Iowa were particularly still and vast that day, as she spied the family pick-up truck crawling up the the long, dusty drive that welcomed visitors to the family farm. Mom and Pop Kesselring arrived home having procured a lovingly used upright piano for the honest sum of $50. Perched upon a pew in the parlor Mom taught Kara the notes, and given the girl’s natural keenness, piano lessons were quickly in order.

Her commitment to sensitive and serious study ushered Kara off of the farm. She focused on vocal music in college, majoring in classical voice as well as singing with jazz and show choir ensembles at the University of Iowa. Yet all the while she maintained her love affair with the piano, performing both classical and pop keys at every opportunity. Nearing the end of school her tastes matured as she discovered great jazz vocalists like Carmen McCrae and Abbey Lincoln. This period of burgeoning passions also saw Kara meet and promptly marry prolific classical, jazz, and rock bassist Patrick Williams.

The newlywed couple blossomed among the eclectic community of musicians in their chosen home base of metropolitan Chicago. Saying goodbye to what felt like a much slower lifestyle in Iowa, Kara eagerly threw herself into many genres of music in the Second City scene. She got to work self-producing “If I Should Lose You,” a jazz album featuring some of Chicago’s finest players, and singing in a quirky band called Whipstitch. It was in that group she met and began collaborating with guitarist Scott Anderson. Turned on by Brazilian and world music the duo formed Nova Bossa, whose CD “Sonho Meu” came out in limited release. Kara also found a great fit in the celebrated society band The Standing Room Only Orchestra. She continues to frequent this crowd pleaser, playing keys and singing for weddings and corporate events. Standing Room Only has been nationally ranked in Modern Bride Magazine’s “150 Hottest Bands” for multiple years.

As Chicago boasts what it arguably America’s greatest theatre scene, Kara has also extended her talents to musicals. She appeared in Tony & Tina’s Wedding, Flanagan’s Wake, and travelled with the hilarious educational theatre troupe Wavelength. She co-wrote the cabaret Musical Staff with Brendan Kelly which has played across America and in Singapore. Most notably, Kara understudied and played keyboards in Broadway in Chicago’s long-running production of the Tony award-winning smash hit Jersey Boys.

In addition to her wellspring of work in Chicago, Kara’s career has taken her all over the map. She’s proud to report that she’s a mere two, count ‘em TWO states away from having played gigs in each and every one of these United States. Most recently, Kara hit the road to play keys with America’s hottest new vocal group Under the Streetlamp. The feel-good quartet captured the hearts of audiences across the nation with their breakout concert special on PBS. Catch Streetlamp rocking your favorite hits from the American Radio Songbook on tour in a city near you or on your local PBS station.

After logging some years and plenty of miles along her musical journey, Kara found herself longing for the simplicity of her roots. She turned her songwriting inward to reflect the effortless and idiosyncratic mystique of musical heroes like Lyle Lovett, John Prine, Paul Thorn, and Joni Mitchell. The calling to resurrect her heritage compelled Kara to form the homespun country/folk group Sugarcreek Road. Sugarcreek Road blends a modern potpourri of folk, country, bluegrass, and gospel to create a sound that is as raw and compelling as America itself. Catch their authentic approach to Americana throughout the Chicago music scene at venues such as Martyr’s, Mayne Stage, Uncommon Ground, Chicago Folk & Roots Festival, and more.

Perhaps her greatest joy arrived in 2007, when Kara and husband Pat joyfully announced the birth of their sweet daughter Iris. Motherhood has proven a very powerful source of inspiration for Kara, both personally and musically. Once expecting, she joined collaborator Laurie Empen to co-produce the children’s CD “Callin’ All Kids.” Empen also encouraged the mom-to-be to create a traditional gospel album called “The Grandma Project” dedicated to Kara’s grandmother Helen. And it’s no wonder that nurturing came so naturally to Kara. She’s spent years as a member of Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music teaching piano, voice, vocal jazz, and a very special class called Wiggleworms, which cultivates musical discovery in toddlers. Kara also teaches piano and voice from her home, known as Grove Music Studio. In fact, daughter Iris is among her diligent and dedicated Grove music students. You can follow all Kara’s latest adventures in music and motherhood on her blog, Playing, Singing Mama.


Pianist, vocalist, and arranger Kara Kesselring is a bustling freelance musician and dedicated educator based in Chicago. For over a decade she’s mined the Windy City’s vibrant music scene, establishing an eclectic career.

Highlights include playing keys and singing in the Tony award-winning smash hit Jersey Boys (2nd National Tour, Broadway in Chicago); touring and arranging for the breakout PBS retro-rock sensation Under the Streetlamp; as well as composing, arranging, and performing around the globe for educational comedy troupe Wavelength. Kara founded homespun country/folk group Sugarcreek Road (writer, keyboards, vocals, accordion) releasing her first original album, “Hurry Up & Relax” in 2015, and appears with celebrated society band Standing Room Only Orchestra (keyboards,vocals). She also frequents Chicago piano bars such as The Drake, The Pump Room, Stetson’s-Hyatt Regency, and Mastro’s Steakhouse. Other notable venues include Chicago Symphony Hall, Taste Of Chicago Festival, Old Town School Of Folk Music, Park West, Club Nokia (Los Angeles), and MGM Grand (Las Vegas). Recordings include If I Should Lose YouSonho MeuCalling All Kids, and The Grandma Project.

Passionate about education, she earned a BA in Classical Voice Performance from the University of Iowa. Since 1999 Kara has taught at the Old Town School of Folk Music offering private and group lessons in piano and voice to children and adults, as well as leading a vocal jazz combo class. She also maintains Grove Ave. Music Studio, a prospering private studio for piano and voice in her Berwyn, IL home. Teaching inspired Kara to pen the revue  Musical Staff (a parody on educational issues) with partner Brendan Kelly.

Additionally, Kara was a founder of the Berwyn Arts Council and serves as a very active member of her church, Lake View Presbyterian. She and her husband, musician Pat Williams, are the proud parents of 8 year old daughter Iris Mae.