LifeNotes: Fisk Jubilee Singers Leader Dies

matthew-kennedy1

Matthew Kennedy

Nashville music educator Matthew Kennedy, who led the renowned Fisk Jubilee Singers for more than two decades, died on Thursday, June 5, at age 93.

Kennedy remained an icon at Fisk long after his retirement in 1986. He was the pianist at First Baptist Church Capitol Hill almost up until the time of his passing. His death was the result of complications from cancer, according to The Tennessean.

Raised in Georgia, Kennedy was a classical piano prodigy who earned a scholarship to the Julliard School in New York. After graduating with his piano diploma in 1940, he enrolled at Fisk. World War II interrupted his studies. He earned his Fisk degree in 1947 and began working at the university as a music instructor.

He married fellow Fisk pianist Anne Gamble in 1956. She pre-deceased her husband in 2001.

Kennedy was appointed director of The Fisk Jubilee Singers in 1957 and held that post for the next 23 years. Under his leadership, the group recorded Spirituals in Hi-Fi: Concert in Paris for Columbia/Harmony Records in 1958. He also led the Jubilee Singers on the 1971 LP Eye of the Storm, which celebrated the centennial of the legendary ensemble.

Daughter Nina Kennedy is also a concert pianist. She produced a documentary film about her father in 2007.

A viewing will be held 3-6 p.m. on Friday, June 13 at Lewis & Wright Funeral Directors, 2500 Clarksville Highway. An Omega Psi Phi fraternity memorial service will there at 6 p.m. Visitation will be at noon the following day, June 14, at First Baptist Church Capitol Hill, 625 Rosa Parks Blvd. This will be followed by a musical celebration at 12:30 p.m. and a funeral service at 1 p.m.

In lieu of flowers, the Kennedy family requests that donations be made to the Gamble/Kennedy Scholarship Endowment (kennedymusicfund.org).

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Robert K. Oermann is a longtime contributor to MusicRow. He is a respected music critic, author and historian.

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