But on a whim, she applied to a one-year, post-graduate certificate program at the Guildhall School of Music in London.
"I was a college student in that transitional period where you're not sure what you're going to do yet," she says in a phone interview from her home in "middle of nowhere" northern Colorado. "But I kept getting bumped onto this musical route."
The singing jobs kept coming. A relationship with the English tenor saxophone player who would become her husband and musical partner, Jim Tomlinson, deepened. And her flair for tweaking the American Songbook and Brazilian rhythms took hold. In retrospect, the seemingly random decisions of an aimless liberal-arts major turned into a trajectory.
"Everything I'd been doing up until that point — language and literature and poetry — really did prepare me for what I do. Because I loved story, and I became a storyteller," Kent says.
On Monday, Kent and Tomlinson will return to Salt Lake City's Capitol Theatre as part of the JazzSLC series.
They bring their 20-year history of playing American standards ("What a Wonderful World," "Hushabye Mountain"), their own compositions and classics from Antonio Carlos Jobim, including "One Note Samba" and "This Happy Madness."
With a voice reminiscent of Astrud Gilberto, JazzSLC Founder Gordon Hanks says, "Stacey Kent singing in English or French or Portuguese transforms the lyrics into beauty." Hanks calls her his "favorite jazz singer."
Tomlinson and Kent are working on an orchestral album with 53 musicians from the London Symphony Orchestra and the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. While the arrangements will be smaller for the Salt Lake show's five-piece group, Kent says she's inspired simply by the scope of having so many voices blended at once.
"The feeling is so ephemeral," she says. "You have this long-lasting feeling of euphoria standing there just enveloped in this sound. I'm a little giddy."
She's hoping to pass some of that lingering delight to her Utah audience.