While at a White House gospel gala in 1979, Harding met gospel singer Shirley Caesar, eventually signing her to Word and establishing the Rejoice label to celebrate Black Gospel artistry. Ken’s roster would include Al Green, Bobby Jones, Albertina Walker and the Mighty Clouds of Joy, among others. After being promoted to head of A&R in 1980 and given responsibility for label marketing in 1985, Harding founded Word Nashville, pushing the horizons of inspirational music past traditional boundaries with such artists as Johnny Cash, Glen Campbell, The Gaither Vocal Band and NewSong.
In 1987, after more than a decade at Word, Harding set out to build a label where he could give his full attention to a more select group of artists. In 1990, New Haven Records was born. Drawing on his expertise in Southern Gospel, Black Gospel, and Country Gospel, Ken signed the brightest and the best in these genres. Additionally, Harding developed some of the top-selling compilation series in each of these musical categories.