Major career change puts alumna Katie Dutton in the spotlight

By Jill Pease

Katie Dutton performs with J.J. Grey & Mofro at the Saenger Theatre in New Orleans.

When Katie Dutton recently came across one of her notebooks from first grade she had to laugh. In it, her 7-year-old self had settled on two future career options: dolphin trainer or famous singer.

While she’s not planning to work at an aquarium any time soon, she has taken a significant leap toward making her other dream come true. In February, Dutton resigned her position as a pediatric speech-language pathologist to become a full-time singer.

Dutton, a 2015 graduate of the University of Florida College of Public Health and Health ProfessionsBachelor of Health Science, communication sciences and disorders program, now writes and performs her own original music and is a back-up singer with Florida-based Southern rock band J.J. Grey & Mofro. The group is touring the U.S. and Europe this year headlining shows and also opening for bands such as Blues Traveler and Whiskey Myers.

“I joked the other day that at 31 years old, it feels in a way I’ve moved backwards,” Dutton said. “I go through six years of college, get two degrees, get a job with benefits and health insurance, and now I’m moving out of my apartment and leaving it all to go live on a bus and be a vagabond for the next year on tour. So that has been super mentally challenging as I leave a stable, steady life to go out on a limb. However, this limb that I’ve gone out on is completely worth it.”

This huge life change is probably not a big surprise for people who know Dutton well. She’s been performing since her debut as Lana the Ladybug in her second grade school play, “Going Buggy.” She graduated high school from Jacksonville’s Douglas Anderson School of the Arts and has performed at various weekend gigs for years.

As a UF student, Dutton started as a vocal performance major, but decided it wasn’t quite the right fit. A friend’s mom suggested speech-language pathology, and once she shadowed therapists at Nemours Children’s Hospital, Dutton was hooked. After completing her bachelor’s degree with the PHHP department of speech, language, and hearing sciences, she earned a master’s in communication sciences and disorders from the University of Central Florida in 2018. She went on to hold positions as a speech-language pathologist at a hospital, skilled nursing facility and the St. Johns County School District.

Dutton with bandmates onstage at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee.

But music was still calling.

When she sang at a friend’s wedding in 2021 the band playing the wedding asked her to become one of their vocalists. It was at one of these wedding gigs that she met and performed with members of J.J. Grey & Mofro, who invited her to sing on their new album, Olustee, and join them on their 2024 tour.

Even though music is Dutton’s life now, lessons and reminders of her speech-language pathology career are never far away. With her speech therapy training, Dutton knows more about maintaining vocal health than most performers.

“They say doctors can be the worst patients. As a singer, I think I was the worst speech therapist for a while and had to really focus on vocal hygiene to help me and the other performers on this tour,” Dutton said. “That means reiterating vocal rest, vocal warm-ups, lots of fluids and probably the best thing I ever did was buy a steamer specifically for your voice. It keeps your vocal cords really hydrated.”

Her former speech-language pathologist co-workers at St. Johns County School District and St. Catherine’s continue to be among her biggest fans.

“Memorial Day weekend my careers intersected when my speech therapy colleagues came to see me perform at St. Augustine Amphitheatre,” Dutton said. “This was very, very special. Knowing I had their full support when I left my speech therapy job to do this means the world to me.”

Follow Dutton’s performances and updates on Instagram and Facebook.