The Fisk Jubilee Singers at Carnegie Hall

As you probably know, I am currently going through boxes and papers preparing for the publication of my first book of memoirs. Today I thought I would share with you this New York Times review of the Fisk Jubilee Singers' 1980 Carnegie Hall concert with my father as director and my mother as piano accompanist.

My father Matthew Kennedy standing front and center with the Fisk Jubilee Singers of 1980

"The New York Times, April 8, 1980

Chorus: Fisk U. Singers (headline)

 By Peter G. Davis

THE Fisk University Jubilee Singers of Nashville have been cultivating the Negro spiritual tradition for over a century, since 1871 to be exact. Queen Victoria, Kaiser Wilhelm and innumerable other heads of state have heard them in the course of many world tours. On Sunday night, the present group appeared in Carnegie Hall under the leadership of Matthew Kennedy, with Anne Gamble Kennedy at the piano.
The program included more than a dozen spirituals, some familiar and others far off the beaten track, as well as a few 'classical' works by Lotti, Hassler, Russell Woolen, Undine Smith Moore and Arthur Cunningham. On the whole, the music struck a joyous, optimistic note, which was only appropriate for an Easter Sunday evening.
Since the Fisk Jubilee Singers are made up of only 19 members, the group is able to project a very specific vocal personality that is not always possible with a large chorus. This did not mean a blandly homogenized sound produced with the sort of computerized accuracy perfected by most college choral ensembles, but an appealing individual tone ruffled by the grainy burr of largely untrained, but naturally pleasant and musical voices.
Not that the singers had to make any apologies in matters of technical precision. Attacks were right on the mark, dynamics and adjustments were smoothly made and each piece was brightly polished without sacrificing the essential vitality or communicative immediacy of the music. If the men seemed a shade weaker than the women in terms of range, projection and overall quality, the differences were slight and rarely interfered with the even consistency of the performance."

The cover of Fisk News magazine

Here are the names of the singers as listed in the program: Sopranos - Kimberly Fleming, Cynthia Johnson, Cynthia Ledbetter, Deborah Roundtree, Legoria Vernon; Altos - Donna Brown, Andrea Danforth, Karen Hogg, Carole Strong; Tenors - Alonzo Bain, Herald Johnson, Edmund King, Bernard McCree; Basses - George Cooper, Derrick Lee, Patrick Lightbourn, Charles Mayfield, Kevin Williams, Thomas Wilson.

Immediately after that concert while my parents, the singers, well-wishers and fans were backstage, I had a few moments alone with the Steinway concert grand on the Carnegie Hall stage, performing for the maids and janitors in that acoustically perfect room. Two years later I would return to New York as a graduate student at the Juilliard School.


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