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Matthew Kennedy

Retired director of the historic Fisk Jubilee Singers, Matthew Washington Kennedy was born on March 10, 1921 in Americus, Georgia. His parents were educator, Mary Dowdell Kennedy and mail carrier, Royal C. Kennedy, who died when Kennedy was fifteen months old. Kennedy attended McCoy Hill Elementary School between 1926 and 1934. A prodigy of piano and choral music, Kennedy was inspired by a Rachmaninoff concert in Macon, Georgia when he was eleven years old. Moving with his mother to New York City in 1934, Kennedy enrolled in DeWitt Clinton High School. With help from his music teacher, Lois Adler, Kennedy entered the Juilliard Institute of Music. Graduating from high school in 1939, he also earned a diploma in piano from Juilliard in 1940. Kennedy went on to attend Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. While attending Fisk University, Kennedy became piano accompanist to the historic Fisk Jubilee Singers under the direction of Ms. J.A. Myers on their tour of Europe, North Africa and Israel. Drafted into the U.S. Army in 1943, he served in Southern Europe and North Africa before returning to graduate cum laude with his B.A. degree from Fisk University in 1947. Kennedy went on to earn his M.A. degree from Juilliard in 1950 and completed course work toward his Ph.D. from George Peabody College in Nashville.

Employed by Fisk University as an instructor in 1947, Kennedy became a member of its music faculty in 1954 as an associate professor. In 1956, he married piano soloist, Anne Gamble. Kennedy was appointed director of the Fisk Jubilee Singers in 1957, and he mentored hundreds of young students for the next twenty-three years. In 1958, Kennedy made his own solo piano debut at Carnegie Recital Hall. Over the years, Kennedy toured the world as a soloist and as director of the Jubilee Singers. He was appointed acting chairman of the Fisk University Music Department from 1975 to 1978. Kennedy retired from Fisk University in 1986.

Kennedy has served on resource panels for the Tennessee Arts Commission and on boards of the Nashville Symphony Association and the John W. Work, III Memorial Foundation. He received the Achievement Award from the National Black Music Caucus of the Music Educators’ National Conference, distinguished service awards from the National Association of Negro Musicians, Fisk University Alumni Association, and Omega Psi Phi Fraternity. Kennedy holds lifetime memberships with the NAACP and the Fisk University General Alumni Association. He is a member of the Nashville Fine Arts Club where he serves as President. He is also a member of the Nashville Symphony Guild, Gamma Phi Chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., First Baptist Church, Capitol Hill and a recent inductee into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in Macon, Georgia.

In 2003, Kennedy released his first album, Familiar Favorites. It is dedicated to the memory of his late wife, Anne, and to their daughter, Nina who is also a concert pianist. In 2006, Kennedy received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters, from Fisk University. In 2007, Kennedy’s daughter made a film entitled, Matthew Kennedy: One Man’s Journey, which won the Rosetta Miller-Perry Award for Black Filmmakers.

Kennedy was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on March 13, 2007. Kennedy passed away on June 5, 2014.

Accession Number

A2007.086

Sex

Male

Interview Date

3/13/2007

Last Name

Kennedy

Maker Category
Schools

DeWitt Clinton High School

McKay Hill School

The Juilliard School

Fisk University

First Name

Matthew

Birth City, State, Country

Americus

HM ID

KEN03

Favorite Season

Spring

Sponsor

Charles and Anne Roos

State

Georgia

Favorite Vacation Destination

None

Favorite Quote

I'm Blessed.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Tennessee

Birth Date

3/10/1921

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Nashville

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Chicken

Death Date

6/5/2014

Short Description

Music professor, choral director, and pianist Matthew Kennedy (1921 - 2014 ) was the former director of the Fisk Jubilee Singers at Fisk University.

Employment

Fisk University

Interlochen Center for the Arts

U.S. Army

Main Sponsor
Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Matthew Kennedy's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Matthew Kennedy lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Matthew Kennedy describes his mother's upbringing and career

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Matthew Kennedy describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Matthew Kennedy describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Matthew Kennedy describes how his parents met

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Matthew Kennedy describes his parents' careers and personalities

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Matthew Kennedy describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Matthew Kennedy remembers his neighborhood in Americus, Georgia

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Matthew Kennedy describes his early music lessons

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Matthew Kennedy talks about his early musical talent

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Matthew Kennedy remembers his academic ability

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Matthew Kennedy recalls his early exposure to music

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Matthew Kennedy remembers his first musical performances

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Matthew Kennedy remembers singing at the Bethesda Baptist Church in Americus, Georgia

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Matthew Kennedy talks about the difference between hymns and spirituals

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Matthew Kennedy remembers the influence of Eva Jessye and Hall Johnson

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Matthew Kennedy talks about gospel music

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Matthew Kennedy recalls performing on WENC Radio in Americus, Georgia

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Matthew Kennedy remembers playing the organ at the Rylander Theatre in Americus, Georgia

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Matthew Kennedy remembers a concert by Sergei Rachmaninoff, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Matthew Kennedy remembers a concert by Sergei Rachmaninoff, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Matthew Kennedy remembers his isolation from other children

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Matthew Kennedy talks about his awareness of black classical musicians

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Matthew Kennedy remembers his mother's decision to move to New York City

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Matthew Kennedy recalls his family's move to New York City

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Matthew Kennedy remembers his enrollment at the Juilliard School of Music

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Matthew Kennedy recalls the students at the Juilliard School of Music in New York City

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Matthew Kennedy remembers receiving a piano from his teacher

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Matthew Kennedy describes completing Dewitt Clinton High School in New York City

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Matthew Kennedy describes his admission to Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Matthew Kennedy talks about being drafted into World War II

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Matthew Kennedy recalls playing piano for the Fisk Jubilee Singers

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Matthew Kennedy remembers meeting and marrying his wife

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Matthew Kennedy remembers John Wesley Work III

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Matthew Kennedy recalls his time in the U.S. Army

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Matthew Kennedy describes his assignments in the U.S. Army

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Matthew Kennedy recalls earning a master's degree at the Juilliard School of Music

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Matthew Kennedy remembers the formation of the Famous Jubilee Singers

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Matthew Kennedy talks about the Famous Jubilee Singers

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Matthew Kennedy remembers John Wesley Work III's directorship of the Fisk Jubilee Singers

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Matthew Kennedy recalls his appointment as director of the Fisk Jubilee Singers

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Matthew Kennedy describes the Fisk Jubilee Singers' concerts

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Matthew Kennedy talks about the history of the Fisk Jubilee Singers

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Matthew Kennedy talks about the role of spiritual music in the Civil Rights Movement

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Matthew Kennedy remembers the Civil Rights Movement in Nashville, Tennessee

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Matthew Kennedy reflects upon the Civil Rights Movement

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Matthew Kennedy remembers his debut at Carnegie Hall in New York City

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Matthew Kennedy describes his tenure as director of the Fisk Jubilee Singers

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Matthew Kennedy describes his work in the music department of Fisk University

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Matthew Kennedy talks about his first album

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Matthew Kennedy reflects upon his life

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Matthew Kennedy talks about the John W. Work III Memorial Foundation

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Matthew Kennedy remembers his students

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Matthew Kennedy reflects upon his legacy and hopes for the African American community

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Matthew Kennedy talks about his daughter's documentary project, 'Matthew Kennedy: One Man's Journey'

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Matthew Kennedy describes his doctoral studies

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Matthew Kennedy describes how he would like to be remembered

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Matthew Kennedy narrates his photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

4$6

DAStory

2$5

DATitle
Matthew Kennedy remembers receiving a piano from his teacher
Matthew Kennedy remembers his debut at Carnegie Hall in New York City
Transcript
When we went to New York [New York], Depression [Great Depression] days, there was a movement where schools were set up to actually help artists and performers, all part of the WPA, Works Projects Administration, or something like that [sic. Works Progress Administration; Work Projects Administration], but anyway, it was the WPA, and I entered the school that was established there on 7th Avenue, and the piano teacher that I worked with there had attended Juilliard [Juilliard School of Music; The Juilliard School, New York, New York], and she gave us some advice about actually applying for the audition and the scholarship; I had left that out before.$$Okay.$$Um-hm.$$Okay. So, how did you like Juilliard?$$Very much, very much, and there were problems there. I look back sometimes and say I probably could have made much better progress if I'd had a piano in the apartment where I was staying with the Wilsons [ph.], but when I first started, I had no piano. I would have to walk several blocks to another acquaintance who had come originally from Americus [Georgia] years ago; they had a piano and that's where I went to do my practicing, and of course I could do lots of practicing at school, at Juilliard, but it would have been so nice. And Miss Adler [Lois Adler] knew about that hardship; she brought that to the attention of one of her students, as she knew this student had, had some means--from Albany, Georgia. Her parents were into pecan plantations, and anyway, she told this student, this student arranged to have a piano, an upright piano, brought to the apartment where I was living, and that, that was a great help.$$That certainly sounds like it was, so, yes (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) Yes, yes.$You, in 1958, experienced a sort of a personal triumph of your own by getting this--a solo--your solo piano debut at Carnegie Hall--$$Right.$$--in New York City [New York, New York].$$Um-hm.$$Now how did this come about?$$Well, Ms. Adler [Lois Adler] was still encouraging me, and she was so encouraged at the experience I was having in giving these solo selections on the Jubilee Singers [Fisk Jubilee Singers] concerts, and she just wanted to see how far I might go as a concert pianist I believe, so she encouraged me to get the services of an agent, and of course he told her that I needed to have a New York debut, and so one thing led to the other and I was so, so, so happy the way things turned out. I received favorable reviews from both The New York Times and the Tribune, and so--but, but even, even so, things didn't really open up suddenly or quickly enough for me because see, I was already at Fisk [Fisk University, Nashville, Tennessee], on the Fisk faculty, when I made the debut there in '58 [1958], so if it had been an overwhelming success, I guess I would have had big headlines and all that. And that, that didn't happen, and I, I couldn't even think of giving up my teaching to pursue just the concert career, but it was nice to have, it was nice to give a few more concerts and use the comments from the critics that I had earned.$$Were your students proud of you?$$Very much so. And the faculty would give faculty recitals also, as a part of the year's activities; those were very well received. But I was finding it difficult as, as, as involved I was now as director of the Jubilee Singers, to keep up my repertoire as a pianist, so that, that had to suffer as a great--as a consequence.$$Now, did your mother [Mary Dowdell Kennedy] get a chance to hear you?$$Yes, she was present for that debut, yes, very, very happy. I think she felt that her dreams had been fulfilled.$$That must have been wonderful to have her there (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) Right.$$Yeah.$$Um-hm.