Jennifer Wayne: Granddaughter of Legendary John Wayne

Family Name Means Big Boots to Fill And This Lady Steps Right In

Her grandfather was a cowboy.  Not just any cowboy, he was the cowboy… legendary John Wayne. And while she never had the chance to meet him, Jennifer Wayne is quick to express her admiration and appreciation to the man he was and the sentiments he instilled in her family. Today, a celebrity in her own right, this Wayne continues to rise to stardom as a musician and most recently, an actor. Risen sat down with this multi-talented lady to talk about her band, Runaway June, family, faith, and even her years as a professional tennis player.

Interviewed exclusively for Risen Magazine in Seaside, Florida

Risen Magazine: Although the legendary John Wayne died three years before you were born, what was it like growing up with such an iconic grandfather?
Jennifer Wayne: You know, a lot of people ask me that and I really don’t know how to answer because that’s just always what I’ve known.  But there’s a funny story about that. When I was little, I would always ask the other kids, “What channel is your grandpa on?” because mine was always on AMC and I could just turn it on [and see him]!  So, I’d always ask what channel their grandpas were on because I didn’t know that it was any different.

RM:  I’m sure your family has tons of stories about John Wayne’s life and the legacy he left. What is one of your favorites?
JW:  Oh my gosh I have so many favorite stories, but this is one of my very favorites because it’s so cute! So, my grandfather absolutely loved the mornings.  He would get up and watch the sunrise every morning and he wanted everyone else to be up with him.  He used to wake my mom up early in the morning and say, “Get up! You’re burnin’ daylight!” Well, this one time when my mom was still a young girl, they were on his boat and my mom had brought her best friend on the trip.  There were bunk beds in my mom’s room and my mom always slept on the bottom bunk, but for some reason, they decided to switch and my mom’s best friend was sleeping on the bottom bunk.  My grandpa came in the [next] morning, went to the bottom bunk and slapped my mom’s best friend on the butt and said, “Get up! You’re burnin’ daylight!” My mom’s friend screamed and jumped up and said, “Mr. Wayne!” When they all realized what happened, my mom and grandpa and her friend just laughed and laughed.  He was so embarrassed that he slapped someone else’s butt that he thought was his daughter.  They all just cracked up every time they told the story.  My mom also said that there was a rule in the house that if you walked by him, you had to give him a kiss.  He was so affectionate and loving with his family.  He was such a family man.

RM: So that phrase “You’re burnin’ daylight!” that your grandpa famously said in his films, that really came from him?
JW: Oh yea… that was him all the way and that’s how he woke everyone up every morning.          

RM:  Do you have a favorite quote or line from one of his films?
JW:  He has so many and I love all of his quotes.  They’re all awesome, but my favorite quote of his is, “Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.” It’s my favorite because it means everything to me when it comes to going for your dreams.  He certainly went for his dreams and look what happened.  I just love that quote.  He also had the quote, “Life is tough, but it’s tougher when you’re stupid.”  That’s a pretty funny one!      

RM:  When did you realize you wanted to pursue a career in music and were there any other musical members in your family?
JW:  I’ve loved music since I was little, but I grew up being a tennis player. With my dad, music wasn’t really an option; it was tennis, tennis, tennis.  When I turned eighteen, I thought, “Okay, I’m 18 now, I can do what I want!”  So, I got a guitar and started playing music. My Aunt Marisa was the only musical one in my family and she had moved to Nashville at one point and pursued singing for a while.  She has been really helpful to me, and really inspiring to me, always letting me know I can do it.

God is number one and He comes before everything. I am human though and sometimes I forget and have to sort of reel myself back in, but it’s a really big part of our band, Runaway June, too

RM:  Speaking of tennis. You were a professional tennis player and also formed a band with a couple of other tennis pros and performed at tennis tournaments.  Obviously you are skilled in many areas, but music has always held a special place in your heart.  Share a little about how tennis shaped you and how that combines with your singing.
JW:  It’s funny, so many tennis people love music and so many music people love tennis.  When I was first getting into music, all of the people that helped me were tennis players.  My ex-boyfriend and first love of my life, Bob Bryan, (and his twin brother Mike) is number one in the world in doubles and they’re just awesome guys. Mike played the drums, Bob played the piano, and their dad played the guitar. One day their dad said, “Jen, you should sing!” I was so shy and at first didn’t want to do it, but when they were playing one day, he called me up on stage, and literally made me get up there and sing. I was so nervous, but I did it! Then we just started going around and singing at little gigs. I was playing guitar and writing the songs, and we’d record the songs on this recorder they had. That was my first kind of band. I gave a tennis lesson to Anita Baker one time and I thought that was the coolest thing. I wanted to totally ask her all about music, but I thought, “No, let’s just talk about the forehand.”

RM: Your athleticism had a prominent role in television too. What was it like being part of The Amazing Race?
JW: Oh my gosh… hard! It was amazing because I got to see so much of the world and do things that I would normally never do. It really pushed me and my limits on what I thought I could do, and what I thought I couldn’t do. There were so many spiritual moments for me, but really you’re just trying to survive. It felt like The Hunger Games at some points. I think I slept for three days straight when I got home. It was really fun, but really difficult. The important thing that I took away from the experience is that people all over the world are good. There are so many good people out there and people genuinely want to help you when you need it. You constantly have to ask people for directions, or water, or for food when you’re starving and when people had nothing to give, they would still give you something. That is the coolest thing I got from it.

RM: How did you come to faith and what role does it currently play in your life?
JW: Both of my parents are really spiritual and believe in God so I was always raised with knowing about God, but I went through kind of my own journey when I was 14 or 15 years old. My dad was Catholic and I just kind of questioned everything, but I found that going through that journey made me stronger and closer to God because I found faith for myself instead of just my parents telling me about it. God is number one and He comes before everything. I am human though and sometimes I forget and have to sort of reel myself back in, but it’s a really big part of our band, Runaway June, too. We are all spiritual and have good intentions. That’s a huge part of us as well.

RM: Politics are dominating our conversations as we are in a Presidential election year. What responsibilities do you feel when it comes to voicing a Christian perspective?
JW: I definitely feel like when you get into the spotlight you have a voice that you might not have had before. I think you need to be very particular about what you want to voice. For me, when it comes to politics, I don’t love to get involved, but I am very spiritual and I would talk about God to anybody. I feel like when you have faith and you have a voice, you just try to do better. Getting involved in different charities and using our voices for good is a big part of our plan as a band.

RM: You just received your first NSAI [Nashville Songwriters Association International] award for your song, She Don’t Love You, co-written with Eric Paslay, [noted] as one of the top ten songs they “wish they had written.” Rolling Stone magazine named it one of the 25 best country songs written in 2015. What do you want people to take away through your songwriting and music?
JW: That song was written about my love life. Thanks to my awful love life, [laughs] I was able to write a song. It’s just a real story about something I was going through in my life so if someone can listen to it and relate – that’s the goal. It was such an honor for me because the NSAI award is given by your peers. To be recognized for songwriting in this town [Nashville] full of amazing songwriters, that was the coolest part about it for me.

Thanks to my awful love life, [laughs] I was able to write a song. It’s just a real story

RM: Along with singing, you made your feature film acting debut in the faith-based movie, Like A Country Song [2014] starring Billy Ray Cyrus and For King And Country’s Joel Smallbone. What was this experience like and do you see yourself continuing to act?
JW: Well, that’s the funniest story. I have a girlfriend that produces movies, and she called me one day and asked me if I wanted to be in a movie. I said, “Yea, that would be awesome!”  I was thinking it was going to be this small, rinky-dink little movie and that it would just be for fun. When I got to the location I realized it was a full, big time production with trailers and crewmembers and all of this equipment and stuff. I show up to the set and the director is there, and there’s people saying do this, do that, and they’re using all of these acting terms I’d never heard of, and I just had no idea what I was doing.  I was completely out of my element. Right before I shoot my scene, I look over at my friend and whisper, “You did tell them I’ve never acted before, right?” And she said, “No! How do you think I got you the role?” I said to myself, “Well shoot, I’ve got to just fake it ‘til I make it.” I literally pretended to know what I was doing until I got the hang of it! I guess it goes back to my grandfather’s quote. I was scared to death, but I had to saddle up anyway and act my hind end off! It definitely put the acting bug in me and I would do it again in a heartbeat. I loved that it was a faith-based movie about a family’s struggles, and at the end of it, I think people really came away feeling good and getting the messages of forgiveness and redemption.

RM: Many young adults struggle with identity. What do you feel you were created to do? And how are you trying to live that out?
JW: I know I’m supposed to be doing music because it’s in me. I feel like our music has great, real messages, because what we sing about is real and what we really believe in. Our intentions are taking any kind of success we achieve and then doing some good with it by serving charities, or the community, or churches.

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