Previous world record holder Kent, and his wife Jean, French talk 30 years of family, fun, and fast hands!
It was 2001 when Kent’s quest for a Guinness Record began. “For awhile, clapping was just a party trick,” Kent confesses. “When you’re a drummer, you tap on things.” “All the time,” his wife Jean interjects with a smile. Kent was home exploring tools of percussion when he realized how inefficient clapping was. “Most people hold one hand and hit it with the other,” he said, demonstrating. “I thought, ‘why wouldn’t you get both hands involved?’” And so began his perfection of the action. When he joked to friends at a party that he was the world’s fastest clapper, someone said ‘Maybe you ARE the world’s fastest!’ and planted the seed.
Kent French had grown up in Laramie, Wyoming, and studied percussion at the University of Wyoming where he played center snare for the marching band and spent much of his time marching down the 50 yard line, gazing into the eyes of the lovely young woman who held his cymbals; Jean. “I knew on our first date we were going to be married. He knew on the second,” she said, laughing. “Mostly because I told him.” The couple made it official in December of 1985 and began their lives together.
While flipping eggs at a diner Kent and Jean’s first daughter Sarah was born. “We’ve got a lot of Irish twins in our family,” Jean says. “You know… a wink and a headache apart.” So when the couple discovered they were pregnant with their second daughter, Christine, shortly after Sarah’s arrival, Kent decided he was going to need a more sustainable income and joined the United States Army as a mechanic. He hadn’t been enlisted long when he found out the army band was looking for drummers, and after his audition, was quickly awarded a place in the 5th Infantry Division band at Fort Polk. Twin boys John and Steve were soon on the way. “We kept on having kids,” Kent said. “Eventually, when people asked us, ‘What’d you have?’ we just started saying ‘Another Catholic Broncos fan’”; nine kids to be exact. In a fifteen-year span, Kent and Jean welcomed their kids Sarah, Christine, John, Steve, Mike, Rachel, Katie, Jacob, and Josh.
After leaving the military in 1982, the family moved back to the Black Hills to be closer to Jean’s family where she worked as the Office Manager for her father’s dental practice and Kent went to work selling insurance. He joined a country western band when they first moved home, but it “wasn’t very conducive to family life,” he said, so he traded in his black leather vest for a black tux and tie, and began performing with the Black Hills Symphony Orchestra.
The children too, developed a love of music – nearly all of them played a musical instrument. “With a big family, as you can imagine, there’s lots of things everybody can do that doesn’t cost anything.” Jean says. Music was a natural choice. “Everybody can make noise.”
In 2001 Kent mailed a letter of inquiry to the Guinness Book of World Records in London and set up his clapping studio in the laundry room. For nearly a year and a half Kent worked on his speed, perfecting his technique and eventually working up to 721 claps in a minute. “That’s when we all used to look at each other and ask if anyone wanted to go outside,” Katie jokes.
In March of 2003 he took his talent to KOTA radio where it was recorded and released on the AP. Two days later it was in USA Today. The Jimmy Kimmel show was brand new that year, and requested the World’s Fastest Clapper for the show. For months radio stations all over the country called, Kent did private parties and public appearances, and he traveled to Scotland and to Tokyo three times, even starring in a couple of commercials. Today, YouTube has seen a response of over 4 million views on Kent’s video.
This entire whirlwind of publicity started by a curious mind and the determination to meet his goals. From a beginning with a love of music and percussion to making a mark as the World’s Fastest Clapper, Kent, Jean and their family have stories to last a lifetime.