Its rarity in the music world to have wonderfully talented successful artists and musicians that are also a truly happily married couple as Kathie Baillie and her husband, Michael Bonagura. This August 29th will mark the couple's 39th wedding anniversary. It is not many couples who can write, tour, and perform for decades and and thrive in a loving marriage like Kathie and Michael.
Kathie Baillie and Michael Bonagura along with their friend Alan LeBeouf, known as Baillie And The Boys pioneered the sound of co-ed trios with a slew of Top 10 Country singles, decades before artists like Lady Antebellum and the Band Perry graced Country radio. Their harmonies were not only unique but a magical synthesis of the best of each of their voices and talents had to offer.
Michael Bonajura was born March 26th, 1953 in Newark NJ. His father was a history professor. Michael loved music and started performing early, supplementing his football scholarship through College with performances at all types of venues. His family was extremely supportive and proud of their son's musical talents.
Kathie Baillie was born in Morristown, NJ, in 1951, and spent most of her childhood in Orange, CT. Kathie had supportive parents as well, who encouraged their daughter's enthusiasm and natural talents for music. Her father had always wanted her to play the organ, and although she always owned an organ, she never learned to play. As a teenager she started performing at local coffeehouses and school functions, playing acoustic guitar and singing folk and singer/songwriter material.
In 1973, Kathie met fellow singer and guitarist Michael Bonagura on a blind date, and the two hit it off on all levels, personally and musically. Kathie had gone to meet Michael at the Italian restaurant he was working at as a strolling minstrel. Walking through the wrong door which would have led to the kitchen, Kathie came face to face with Michael who was returning from a break. Michael who had braces on and had just had a cast removed from a football injury, made an "interesting impression" as Kathie recalls. Michael did not know that Kathie was coming to meet him that particular day but he somehow knew that this young woman entering the kitchen by mistake, was the Kathie he was supposed to meet. Smiling and asking if she was Kathie he confirmed that he was Michael and that she had the wrong door. Kathie performed one song with him, she believes it was "Killing Me Softly" before leaving and the two exchanged numbers. Michael called her the next day and invited Kathie to play a gig with him that night, which she did, and the rest is as they say, history.
After College and with Kathie leaving her job , with her parents blessing the pair commenced making music their full time endeavour. Baillie and Bonagura added their friend Alan LeBeouf and formed an acoustic pop trio called "Bittersweet". Working steadily on the East Coast circuit they landed a record deal with the Atlantic-distributed Big Tree Records label. To make ends meet they also did session and jingle work, utilizing their glorious harmonies. The trio even spent two years playing in Bermuda prior to moving to Nashville.
Baillie and Bonagura relocated to Nashville in 1982 after Kathie landed some gigs singing backup on Country sessions in Music City. Kathie remembers that in Nashville she also had a job of hiring demo singers. She laughs as she recalls that she had to hide the fact that she herself was a singer during that job tenure.
After adding harmonies to recordings by Randy Travis, Moe Bandy, Lynn Anderson and many more, Baillie and Bonagura became a trio again when LeBeouf joined them in Nashville. The band still named Bittersweet began earning a potent reputation in Nashville. Further, Michael was having success at songwriting and with the help of the late Ralph Murphy, who advised him to make one little change, wrote a number #1 song recorded by Marie Osmond, "There's No Stopping Your Heart" . Michael's song writing abilities continued and he wrote "Read Between the Lines" recorded by Lynn Anderson and a number of the Baillie and the Boys hits as well. Michael advised that he writes songs about what affects people in life and can tie most of his songs he has written to situations that occurred with family or friends.
Michael says the band’s maturity, was a crucial aspect of their work. “We played the Bluebird and felt like we were really accepted pretty quick,” he says. “We didn’t have any kind of music attitude. I think Nashville has the best musicians and songwriters on the planet, period. I’m always humbled when I’m around the players in town.” But both Kathie and Michael agree that Nashville has changed. When they were starting out you could go from door to door and meet the names playing on the radio who were often quick to offer help and suggestions.
After playing a number of live shows, Bittersweet came to the attention of RCA Records. Turns out that Baillie And The Boys, three Yankees from New Jersey and New England, became a favorite of one of the day’s most famous country boys, Jeff Cook of the band Alabama. Cook adored the way the trio sang “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” and urged Alabama’s label, RCA, to sign them, and they were awarded a recording contract in 1987.
Literally the day before they released their first music through RCA, the president of RCA Records had the trio in a locked room to come up with a new name for the group. The threat finally came that if they didn't come up with something immediately they were being released as "Baillie and the Boys" and so it was. Their first release in 1987 "Oh Heart" became a hit and their chart debut, and Baillie and the Boys became a consistent presence on Country radio . Another one of the keys to the band’s immediate success was producer Kyle Lehning, who had just helped Randy Travis break out as a traditional Country star before he began working with Baillie And The Boys. Kathie recalls opening for the first time with Country legend George Strait in front of an audience of more than 60,000, which was both exciting and tremendously scary. Kathie remarked that "Everything happened so fast at that time, it seemed like a whirlwind."
Their self titled album was released that year, produced three top 20 singles on the U.S. Hot Country Singles charts. Turn The Tide, their second album, was released a year later. It produced four consecutive top 10 hits on the Country charts, including "(Wish I Had a) Heart of Stone", their highest-charting single. “Oh Heart” was the first of seven top 10 singles the band would chart between 1989 and 1990. Others included “Wilder Days,” “Long Shot,” “She Deserves You,” “(I Wish I Had A) Heart Of Stone,” “I Can’t Turn The Tide,” and “Fool Such As I.”
Kathie recalls the extremely demanding road schedule that had her packing up their daughter Alyssa Bonagura born April 1st, 1988 when she was just three weeks old to tour. With the help of a grandparent and a nanny, Alyssa grew up in the midst of her parent's music. Unfortunately the demanding road schedule would also lead LeBeouf to quit the group after 1989's "Turn the Tide". LeBeouf returned to his family in New Jersey for a quieter life. LeBeouf would return to the trio for their 2000 release "The Road That Led Me to You". LeBoeuf still lives back in his home state of New Jersey, between stints playing Paul McCartney in a touring companies “Beatlemania.”
In 1991, Kathie began to step out on her own as a television personality, co-hosting the Music City News Awards telecast, and becoming a regular host and performer on Yesteryear, a show on The Nashville Network. in 2007 saw Kathie finally released her first solo album, "Love's Funny That Way", produced by her husband Michael Bonagura and featuring guest appearances by Vince Gill and Paulette Carlson of Highway 101.
Tickets for their reunion shows sold out and additional shows were added. Baillie and the Boys (they kept the Boys plural even after LeBoeuf left) continue to record, entertain, tour and live what Kathie described several times as "a very blessed life" in music and marriage. Recently they played in Branson Missouri until it closed due to the current COVID crisis. They look forward to when they can safely return to the stage, doing what they love to do togeher. They have lived in the same home in Franklin Tennessee for nearly 40 years in the countryside with their Old English Sheepdogs, the breed of dog they adore. They try to enjoy everyday of their life and their contentment with their lives permeated the interview.
Cathie and Mike’s daughter is now an recording artist herself. She has been singing since the age of 2 and is a multi-instrumentalist. At the age of 10, she was asked by Kenny Rogers to sing a duet with him on his Christmas album "Christmas From The Heart". She was awarded the Sennheiser Scholarship which allowed her to graduate from Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts with a degree in sound technology in 2009. Alyssa Bonagura was given her college degree by Sir Paul McCartney. She performed back up vocals in "That Old Glass Case" on her mother's 2006 album Love's Funny That Way.
In 2010, Bonagura signed with Rondor Music International (A division of Universal Music) as a songwriter. Like her father she has produced hits for other artists. Alyssa's debut album "Love Hard" was released on October 30, 2012. Penned by Alyssa Bonagura, her father Michael, and the Nelson twins Matthew Nelson and Gunnar Nelson,, the single, "This Christmas", featuring Alyssa Bonagura, is the title track of the Nelson's album, Kathie and Michael are very proud of their daughter Alyssa's talents and accomplishments in music. She is certainly the offspring and recipient of her parent's many talents and happy union.
Even Kathie Baillie and Michael Bonagura admit "The music industry does much to pull couples apart," yet staying together and continuing to perform and work together has been "easy" for the pair according to Kathie. Kathie's theory is that "Its easy, as it just works as we have the same dream." Michael believes that they "balance" one another. Whatever the secret, the music will continue to play on for this very talented and loving couple for hopefully many years to come.
By Deborah Gibson