By: Kendra Housel
Keith O’Conner Murphy graduated from Marion College in 1968 with a Bachelor of Arts degree. As a child, Murphy grew up in poverty, without luxuries like indoor plumbing. He remembers his mother bringing water inside and heating it over a hot coal stove so that he was able to take a bath.
Murphy, in recalling his childhood, said that “that kind of background tends to either crush you or motivate you. I am one of the lucky few who it motivated to excel. Only as I matured in later years did I realize that I wasn’t poor in the important things. I had ethical, moral, hardworking parents which some kids did not.”
Coming from a very musically gifted family, he was actively involved in singing in the church choir, and he took to instruments early on. Before coming to Marion College (now IWU), Murphy graduated from Oak Hill High School in 1962. Without any money or special contacts, he and his band got a recording contract shortly after they graduated.
When his first record came out early in 1963, so did the Vietnam draft. Murphy called the draft board to inquire about the likelihood of his own chances of being drafted and when he was given the potential timeline of three months, he hung up the phone and called Marion College. As a college student (and first member of his family to be one), he was given a deferment and avoided the draft.
As a student, Murphy was a commuter from Sweetser, who also worked consistent day jobs and actively traveled with his band on the weekends. Most of his time was spent focused on his musical career, though he did recall having to study especially hard for some of his Bible courses. He often likes to joke that the only subject he ever cheated in was Bible, but in reality he was very thankful to have a good friend whose girlfriend grew up in a Biblically saturated environment, and would help the both of them study. Murphy was always very motivated to do well in school to maintain his deferment, so that he could stay in the United States and continue to grow as a musician and student.
In looking back at his time at Marion College, Murphy has especially fond memories of two professors in particular: Dr. Marjorie Elder and Miss. Emerson. Dr. Elder was a gifted professor, but what Murphy valued the most in her was that “she did not criticize [him] for not attending church regularly, or for [having] long hair.” She was very understanding and empathetic towards her students. Miss Emerson was also among his favorite professors. She taught a class where everyone had to memorize a page from a large book of Shakespearean texts. When it came time for all the students to recite their page from memory, the class soon realized that she had the entire, two inch thick book memorized herself, because she was able to correct their reciting without so much as glancing at the book.
Murphy remembers Marion College as a very wholesome and caring environment. With the study of Bible as an emphasis and the chapels (that at the time were twice a week), campus was a unique mixture of kids who had very intense backgrounds studying the bible and students who did not grow up in the faith. In the tumultuous time of the ‘60s, Marion College was what Murphy calls “a stabilizing environment, that never deviated from keeping their priorities straight regarding their important mission… it was a sort of refuge for students.”
In the midst of the riots and turmoil, including Cincinnati, where the iconic rhythm and blues record company King was located, “Keith Murphy and The Daze” were signed, becoming one of the rare Rock and Roll white artists on King. Around the same time the giant Polydor label of England became interested and also signed them for international exposure. Keith could hardly believe he was on the label who has featured John Lennon, Abba, Bee Gees, and Jimi Hendrix, among many others.
Seven years after graduating from Marion College, Murphy went on to receive one of the first Master’s in Business Administration from Indiana University in Ft Wayne, Indiana. He married his wife Brenda (Rock) Murphy two years into his studies at Marion, though he met her while performing as the hired entertainment at her fifteenth birthday party.
With his masters, he went on to a successful career in business marketing. His career took off initially when he helped to create the formulation and marketing plan for Starburst and Skittles candy. After that success, Mars asked him to relocate his family to New Jersey so he could work at their headquarters, creating new products. He retired from there in 2003. From his experience in candy marketing, he also began his own consulting company called Lollipop Research, and he is the “self appointed Top Pop.”
When asked what advice he would give to current students, Murphy had some wonderful banks of wisdom to share. He began by stressing the need to understand people, in order to love them well. He believes that if you come to know the reasoning behind why someone thinks or acts differently than you do, you will be more inclined to help them and care about them. You have to be willing to look beneath the surface. Along with this he also emphasized the importance of kindness.
Murphy says one of the most telling things that immediately reveals someone’s character is how they treat people who would be unable to do anything for them. As an active voting member of the Recording Academy, which is responsible for awarding the Grammy’s, he has been in a room with many important people, where someone will stop talking to him and his wife mid-sentence to go talk to a more notable celebrity.
One of Murphy’s record’s was requested by the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, which includes people like Elvis, Johnny Cash, Buddy Holly, Rick Nelson and many others. His record is in the permanent collection of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Murphy in closing, wanted students to know that “you are going to one of the best universities there is and will have a firm ethical and moral foundation” but within that he stressed also the great importance of listening to people we disagree with, with compassion and understanding.
Indiana Wesleyan University is a place of great opportunity to grow, in compassion and in profession, and Murphy hopes students will remember that they have a “great start” at IWU and that they are very blessed. Murphy said, “Follow your dreams and conscious, and realize it is not a straight path getting to where you wish to end.” Murphy is a great example of someone who lives out this advice; he is truly someone who has taken life as it has come, and enjoyed the ride.
Written by Kendra Housel, a writer for the Alumni Center. Kendra is a sophomore Education and Honors Humanities double major at Indiana Wesleyan University in the John Wesley Honors College. She is also a member of the University Chorale. She is passionate about serving Christ through writing, singing, and caring for others.