Posts

The 2022 International Conference on James Baldwin

Image
It was a long time coming, but the 2022 International Conference on James Baldwin took place in Nice and Saint-Paul de Vence June 16th through 18th. I was excited to be able to participate as a panelist in the session titled "James Baldwin and the Internal Closet" with co-panelist Diane Harriford of Vassar College. Nearly 200 attendees came from all over the globe to sit in on panels, and to view items that had belonged to Baldwin that were on display. As Saint-Paul de Vence was Baldwin's adopted home, being in the medieval village took on an air of pilgrimage as the conference director Shannon Cain took us on a walking tour of the area where Baldwin lived for 17 years, to the spot where his house stood. Shannon lead a one-woman campaign to keep Baldwin's house from being demolished when investors wanted to build on the property. Unfortunately, she lost that battle, but her efforts to keep Baldwin's legacy alive, in spite of objections from Baldwin's family, c

Nina Kennedy, Diane Harriford to Speak at James Baldwin Conference in Nice

Image
  Pianist/author Nina Kennedy and sociology professor Diane Harriford will share the stage in a discussion titled "James Baldwin and the Internal Closet" at the 2022 International Conference on James Baldwin in Nice, France June 18th. During this discussion, a clip from Renée   Baker's opera BALDWIN CHRONICLES: The Art of Being Black  will be screened. Originally scheduled to take place in 2020, the Baldwin Conference was planned to celebrate the 50th anniversary of James Baldwin's arrival in the South of France. The conference was postponed twice because of the COVID-19 Pandemic, but is finally happening June 16-18 at the Centre Universitaire Mediterranean. Nina Kennedy* Pianist and conductor Nina Kennedy is the author of  Practicing for Love: A Memoir  and  Practice What You Preach . Her portion of the discussion will focus on Baldwin's closetedness in his public life, and his very public "friendships" with Nikki Giovanni, Maya Angelou, and Nina Simone

Henrietta Hudson Hosts Fundraiser for Pulse Nightclub Memorial

Image
  Last night I happened to walk into Henrietta Hudson in Manhattan for a well-deserved cocktail, and found a fundraiser in progress benefitting the onePULSE Foundation. As we all remember, the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida, was the scene of a horrific massacre in 2016 in which 49 people were murdered and 53 more were wounded. The majority of the victims were LBGTQ, and as it was Latin Night, most were Latino and Latina. The club's owner, Barbara Poma, has begun a campaign to erect a memorial and museum on the site of the nightclub.  Barbara Poma "No one can dance there anymore," said Poma to the crowd at Henrietta's, as she shared the story of being invited to the White House to witness President Biden's signing of a bill naming the location of the massacre as a national memorial. Here is the  Statement by President Joe Biden on the 5th Anniversary of the Pulse Nightclub Shooting . You can contribute by texting Hudson to 50155, or by scanning the QR code abo

Chadra Pittman and Michelle Brown Present Nina Kennedy's Virtual Book Launch

Image
On Saturday March 19th, Chadra Pittman, founder and executive director of The Sankofa Projects , and Michelle Brown, founder and host of the weekly podcast Collections by Michelle Brown , presented a Zoom Event called "A Conversation with World Renowned Pianist, Filmmaker and Conductor NINA KENNEDY as she launches her 2nd book and talks about the women who shaped her life." People from all over the country joined the Zoom meeting, during which Nina read from her two books Practicing for Love  and Practice What You Preach . After a screening of the video of Nina's performance of Schumann's "Widmung,"  the discussion opened with an homage to Ella Sheppard, matriarch of the original Fisk Jubilee Singers founded in 1871. The Singers toured to raise money for the fledgling Fisk Free Colored School, known today as Fisk University. Nina's parents met when they were students at Fisk, and she stated that she probably would not be here today had it not been for Fi

Poland, Russia, Ukraine, and National Identity

Image
  Polish Ambassador Marek Magierowski The other night I was watching Amanpour and Company , and happened to see the Polish ambassador to the United States being interviewed. Behind him were the Polish and European Union flags prominently placed, and the keyboard of a Steinway grand piano. It reminded me that one of Poland's greatest heroes was pianist and composer Frédéric Chopin. Frédéric  Chopin in 1849 During the interview, Christiane Amanpour repeatedly asked the ambassador what he thought about the United States' refusal to assist the Ukrainians by replacing Polish war planes sent to Ukraine with American planes, and flying them from NATO air space. The ambassador was as diplomatic as he could be, without directly accusing the United States of contributing to the death toll in Ukraine. Looking at history, Poland had rebelled against Russia in the November Uprising of 1830-31. Chopin was out of the country when the rebellion began, and wrote in his letters about being worri

Where Was James Baldwin's Boyfriend?

Image
James Baldwin As we are nearing the end of Black History Month, I find myself reading and listening to the words of James Baldwin. He became one of the most articulate voices of the Civil Rights Movement, yet it is hard to find any description or discussion - in his own words - of his life as a gay man. One could guess that he describes some of his gay life in the novel Giovanni's Room , which can easily be dismissed as a work of fiction. We know that he met the man who became the love of his life, Lucien Happersberger, in Paris in 1949, when Lucien was 17 and James was 25. The fact that Lucien was white could have served as proof that, at least in Baldwin's mind, black men and white men could love each other. But unfortunately, Baldwin chose to remain in the closet, using references to "... my wife" and "... my woman, my children..." in his interviews. The truth is, the most significant woman in his life was his mother, and the children he referred to were

Nina Kennedy Participates in Panel Discussion on the Negro Spiritual

Image
  Nina and Matthew Kennedy On February 24th, the Church of the Holy Spirit of Lake Forest, Illinois presented a panel discussion on "The History and Evolution of the Negro Spiritual." Panelists included former Fisk Jubilee Singers Delano O'Banion, George Cooper, Robert Denson, and E.J. Murray. Nina Kennedy was the only non-Jubilee Singer panelist, as her father served as director of the group from 1957 to 1986. The Reverend Mother Jihan Murray-Smith, Associate Rector at the Church of the Holy Spirit, - and also a former Fisk Jubilee Singer - served as moderator. The conversation included much history of the Negro Spiritual starting with its origins on American plantations during slavery, and the importation of African melodies during the Middle Passage. Several recordings were heard including those of Paul Robeson and Marian Anderson. Delano O'Banion While the famous portrait of the Fisk Jubilee Singers commissioned by Queen Victoria was on the screen, Nina Kennedy sh

The Fisk Jubilee Singers Celebrate 150 Years

Image
In 1871, Verdi’s groundbreaking opera Aida had its world premiere in Cairo. October 6th of that same year, a group of formerly enslaved African Americans set out on their first fundraising tour to save the Free Fisk Colored School in Nashville, which had been established by the American Missionary Association in the aftermath of the Civil War. Within three years, this group primarily made up of teenagers would find themselves singing in the royal courts of Europe, eventually singing before Queen Victoria who reportedly stated, “These young people sing so beautifully they must be from the Music City of the United States.” This group of singers became internationally known as the Fisk Jubilee Singers. The Fisk Jubilee Singers Queen Victoria commissioned a larger-than-life-sized painting of the group that hangs in Jubilee Hall today. Built from the proceeds from those first concert tours, Jubilee Hall was the first permanent structure built in the United States specifically for the purpo

Don Shirley, "Green Book," and Me

Image
I finally got the chance to sit down and watch the Oscar-winning film Green Book , on the life of African American concert pianist Don Shirley . As I had written in an earlier blog ( "Ebony and Ivory: A Dissonant Truth" ), I had visited with Dr. Shirley in his apartment above Carnegie Hall when my parents were in New York with the Fisk Jubilee Singers. The film gave a very accurate depiction of his home and the extravagant, ostentatious décor. The Real Don Shirley in his home Don Shirley was praised early in his life as a genius, a wunderkind whose forte was the traditional classical repertoire. Composer Igor Stravinsky said of him: "His virtuosity is worthy of Gods." But his record label forced him to play jazz, and sent him on tour with a jazz trio. In an interview, Shirley said that his record label wanted him to appear in overalls with a red bandana around his neck on the album cover. He refused. In my own book I have written about facing racism as an African Am

Nina Kennedy Invited to Present Lecture/Book Signing at Juilliard

Image
As you may have read last month (in my blog  "Juilliard Covers Its Ass" ), I was very upset to learn of an auditory exercise conducted by the Juilliard Drama Division depicting scenes from slavery. Several students complained about this exercise, and posted some of the actual audio on Facebook and Instagram. The person who presented this workshop claimed that the intent of the exercise was to explore the origins of Negro Spirituals. The Fisk Jubilee Singers Anyone who knows me knows that my father directed the Fisk Jubilee Singers, who have been called the originators of the Negro Spiritual. In my  Lammy-nominated memoir ,  Practicing for Love , I wrote extensively about the history of the Jubilee Singers, and how their music had been utilized by Czech composer Antonín Dvořák in his Symphony from the New World. When I wrote the first blog, Juilliard had expressed no interest whatsoever in my book. Well, about a week after I sent an email of complaint to the Director of Alumni

Juilliard Covers Its Ass

Image
On April 23rd, I received an email from the Juilliard Alumni Association director. In it was an email from the president of the school addressing an issue concerning a workshop conducted by the Drama Division. Evidently, the Drama Division invited a guest lecturer who conducted a workshop on the African American experience during slavery. In the words of President Woetzel to students, faculty, and staff:       "I write to you to address a September 2020 Drama Division workshop that has impacted our school community. While I am s haring a message below that was sent to the drama community by Evan Yionoulis, dean and director of the Drama Division, I believe it is important for our school community to hear directly from me.      To live our values requires an acknowledgment of mistakes we have made. To that end, I want to state unequivocally that this workshop was ill-conceived and should not have occurred in the manner that it did. I extend a heartfelt apology to the individuals wh

Frances Elizabeth Taylor: Dancer, Actress, Muse

Image
Frances Taylor at the Miles Davis exhibit Frances Taylor While watching the PBS documentary on the life of jazz trumpeter Miles Davis ( Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool ), I was very interested in the interview with dancer Frances Taylor, to whom Davis was married from 1959 to 1968. After doing some research, I learned that Frances Taylor was the first African-American ballerina to perform with the Paris Opera Ballet. She was a member of the Katherine Dunham Company, had roles in the Broadway musicals Mr. Wonderful , Shinbone Alley , and was an original cast member of West Side Story . Taylor also appeared in the Off-Broadway productions of Carmen Jones and Porgy and Bess .  While working on Broadway, she was credited as Elizabeth Taylor because there was already an actress named Frances Taylor, so she used her middle name. Frances Taylor and Leonard Bernstein Frances Taylor was a  member of the original cast of  West Side Story , working alongside Leonard Bernstein, Jerome Robbins, and

Matthew Kennedy 100th Birthday Celebration March 10th

Image
Join us as we pay homage to  American classical pianist, professor, choral director, composer, and arranger of Negro Spirituals Matthew Kennedy , who was born March 10, 1921 in Americus, Georgia. We will be posting links to his recordings, articles, and film clips as part of his 100th birthday celebration. As a young boy, Matthew Kennedy sat in the segregated audience for a live concert given by famed Russian pianist and composer Sergei Rachmaninoff. He decided to become a pianist himself after that concert. Soon afterwards, he and his mother traveled to New York City at apply for study at the Juilliard School, for which he won a scholarship as a result of imitating Rachmaninoff's playing style. After graduating from the Juilliard Preparatory Division, he entered Fisk University as a freshman and served as piano accompanist for the Fisk Jubilee Singers under then-director Mrs. James A. Myers. He traveled the world with the group performing several solo pieces on their programs, thu

Susan Seltzer: Patroness, Partner, Spirit

Image
  Susan Seltzer in her office at Met Life On this day in 1990 at 2:13 am., Susan Seltzer passed away. She was thirty-three years old. Two and-a-half years earlier, she was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. After six weeks of radiation therapy, and then six months of chemo therapy, she lost her battle with cancer, and took her last breath while holding my hand.     Susan Seltzer was born in Yonkers, New York to Evelyn and Herman Seltzer. The family soon moved to New City, New York, where she went to high school. Susan attended Union College in upstate New York, and then transferred her credits at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, where her classes were conducted in Hebrew, in which she was fluent. Her father was a V.P. at Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, and enabled her to have her first job as a Systems Programmer. Herman Seltzer was quite successful in his own right as an originator of the first IBM Mainframe computer, which is on display at the Smithsonian Institution. Susan