Matthew Kennedy, who started playing piano as a young child in the segregated South, went on to perform at Carnegie Hall and around the world, and led the Fisk Jubilee Singers for more than 20 years, died Thursday at the age of 93.
Mr. Kennedy died of complications from cancer after being in hospice care for a week.
Known for his gentle, steady nature and for hands that seemed to have been dipped in the mythical Fountain of Youth, Mr. Kennedy remained an “icon” at Fisk University, his alma mater and longtime employer, long after he retired, said Adrienne Latham, the school’s director of alumni affairs. He drew photo-seeking admirers like a magnet.
“He was the figure you would expect to see whenever the alma mater was being sung,” Latham said.
Mr. Kennedy was born in Americus, Ga., in 1921 to a postal worker and a teacher. He played “It’s Me, O Lord, Standin’ in the Need of Prayer” by ear when he was just 4 years old.
After hearing Sergei Rachmaninoff perform in 1932 in Macon, Ga., where Mr. Kennedy and his mother sat in the balcony of a segregated concert hall, he started imitating the Russian pianist’s playing style. His skill won him a scholarship to the Juilliard School in New York, where he met Duke Ellington and performed at the Apollo Theater.
Source: The Tennessean | Michael Cass, firstname.lastname@example.org