High military aptitude test scores and high school curiosity earned Jonathan Kingham a place in the Navy that started him on the path toward a career as a singer-songwriter. On this episode of Borne the Battle, Kingham discusses how the Navy helped him enter the Seattle music scene, the evolution and future of the music industry, and how singers and songwriters make a living from music.

A high school friend convinced Kingham to skip class and take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test, starting him on a search for the right branch of the military. He entered basic training on Christmas Eve and progressed to machinist and nuclear power schools before being assigned to the USS Abraham Lincoln.

As a trained pianist, Kingham had to find a more portable alternative to bring on the ship, so he bought himself the guitar that would eventually accompany him to his first performances at open mic nights in San Francisco.

After San Francisco, the Navy took Kingham to Seattle, where he started performing regularly and landed his first paid gigs. He inquired about performing as an opening act for David Wilcox at a music club, The Backstage. His curiosity paid off, and he began to open for a mix of acts after his successful performance with Wilcox. In 2010, Toad the Wet Sprocket asked him to join as a touring member, leading to Kingham playing over 700 live shows with the band.

Kingham is also a writer for Operation Song, a Nashville-based nonprofit that helps Veterans, soldiers and their families process and transform their experiences into music. Operation Song pairs Veterans with songwriters who help put their stories into words and music.


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In this episode, Kingham also discusses COVID’s impact on the music industry, the benefits and downfalls of streaming music, and how musical success doesn’t have to mean being a superstar.


Borne the Battle Veteran of the Week:

Mentioned in this episode:

Jana Jenkins is a podcast intern with the VA’s Digital Media Engagement Team. She is an undergraduate student at the College of Saint Benedict studying Communication.

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Published on Jun. 14, 2021

Estimated reading time is 2.5 min.

Views to date: 362


  1. Ron Davis July 1, 2021 at 2:39 pm

    I was in the big red 1, first armored division Band in Germany ,
    didn’t get the chance to go to the music school,
    the warrant officer said I would need to take a aptitude test to reenlist.
    After taking I was told I couldn’t reenlist.
    I think he was a little upset because I only played Jazz piano.
    but, it was a great great last year of my tour. wish I could’ve made it a career .
    Performing in three bands and I’m trying to get into a recording course for now, but a little short on funds.

  2. Evvere L Anthony June 20, 2021 at 2:11 pm

    This weeks episode of Borne The Battle with Jonathan Kingham brought me to my happy place: humility and music. What a beautiful soul that walks in and out of peoples lives with his music. Keep up the good work Tanner, hearing stories of how our military service members are surviving and thriving after service keeps us all going.
    Drummer Girl

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