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RootsTech 2024 keynote speaker Kristin Chenoweth on music, family and how she wants to be remembered

The Emmy and Tony Award-winning performer delights the audience with personal stories and a selection of songs

Kristin Chenoweth has three moms.

There’s the woman who gave birth to her and placed her for adoption. There’s the woman who almost adopted her, then learned she was pregnant and chose to give another family the chance to adopt. And there’s the woman who, along with her husband, adopted and raised Chenoweth.

The Emmy and Tony Award-winning actress and singer is grateful to all three women for the role they played in giving her the wonderful life she has now.

In particular, her adoptive parents gave her a “darn good” childhood rooted in community, family, faith and encouragement.

“Self-esteem is the best gift that you can give a child, and they gave that to me,” Chenoweth said — even when, as chemical engineers, they didn’t always understand her artistic pursuits. “Thank goodness I got them as my parents.”

Chenoweth shared stories of faith and family during her keynote address at RootsTech 2024 on Saturday, March 2. The 3-day global family history conference was held Feb. 29-March 2 in Salt Lake City, and virtually at RootsTech.org.

In addition to personal stories, Chenoweth delighted the audience with four songs: “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” from “The Wizard of Oz”; “For Good,” from the Broadway musical “Wicked” (in which Chenoweth originated the role of Glinda the Good Witch); “I Could Have Danced All Night,” from the musical “My Fair Lady”; and “I Was Here,” written by her friend Victoria Shaw and recorded by the band Lady Antebellum.

She recalled how, as a child, God gave her the impression that she’d someday be a missionary. And she has been a missionary — through the entertainment industry, she said.

“One of the reasons I know I’m in this particular business is for people,” Chenoweth said. “I want people to see God through me.”

An image of Kristin Chenoweth appears on the screens in a packed auditorium as she performs during day three of RootsTech at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, March 2, 2024.
An image of Kristin Chenoweth appears on the screens in a packed auditorium as she performs during day three of RootsTech at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, March 2, 2024. | Brian Nicholson

Music, family and giving back

Raised as a Southern Baptist, Chenoweth grew up watching her church’s choir sing. As a child, she announced she would audition for the adult choir — and she did, singing, “I’m only four-foot-eleven but I’m going to heaven, and that makes me feel 10 feet tall.” The subsequent solo she sang for the choir heralded countless performances to come.

Her chemical engineer parents were a little lost at first; Chenoweth recalled singing herself to sleep one night and hearing them say, “Is it just us, or is she really good?” But they quickly became her biggest supporters as she developed her talents and eventually struck out to pursue a singing and acting career.

Later, after the success of “Wicked,” the publication of a memoir and other achievements, Chenoweth had the chance to meet her biological mother. They were “very close” from the moment they met on Dec. 12, 2012, she said, and remained close until she passed away in August 2023. “I feel her every day.”

Chenoweth said the first thing her biological mother asked her when they met was, “Can you ever forgive me?”

“And I said, ‘I only wanted to meet you to thank you ... for giving me life, giving me a chance to live,’” she shared.

Kristin Chenoweth, right, greets Lydia Puterbaugh and her family during day three of RootsTech at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, March 2, 2024.
Kristin Chenoweth, right, greets Lydia Puterbaugh and her family during day three of RootsTech at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, March 2, 2024. | Brian Nicholson

These days, Chenoweth is living life hand-in-hand with her new husband, guitarist Josh Bryant. They met when his band played at her niece’s wedding, and stayed in touch over emails and FaceTime. A year and a half later, his band played at her nephew’s wedding and he asked to “court” her — “I said, ‘Were you born in 1945?’”

Jokes aside, Chenoweth truly believed a relationship wasn’t possible; her acting and performing commitments created a rigorous traveling schedule, and she’d made peace with her “bachelorette” status.

But Bryant asked where she’d be the next weekend — Boone, North Carolina — and when she arrived, he was there, too. That was it for Chenoweth, and the couple tied the knot in September 2023.

Now, she’s focused on creating a legacy that gives back to the people and places that made her who she is. For instance, for almost a decade she’s run Kristin Chenoweth’s Broadway Bootcamp each summer, bringing in Broadway stars to teach the best and brightest upcoming talent.

The bootcamp idea came about 15 years ago, when her “tiny” hometown of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, asked to name their new performing arts center after her. Chenoweth agreed, but wanted to do more — wanted to give kids the kinds of singing, dancing and acting opportunities that she didn’t always have while growing up.

Nurturing children’s talents is “how I want to be remembered,” Chenoweth said. “That is why I’m here. That’s the reason I’m on this planet.”

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