Joe Kennedy, Jr.

2001 Living Legacy Awardee

Black and white photo of Joe Kennedy Jr.

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Image: Joe Kennedy Jr. Credit: Courtesy of the artist.

Joe Kennedy, Jr., violinist, educator, composer, arranger, was born in Pittsburgh, PA. His grandfather, Saunders C. Bennett, Sr., introduced him to violin in McDonald, PA in the early 1930’s. He was inducted into the U.S. Army during WWII and performed with the Camp Lee Symphony Orchestra, Petersburg, VA. After the war, Joe returned home and cut his Jazz teeth as a member of the Four Strings, along with pianist Ahmad Jamal, guitarist Ray Crawford, and bassist Edgar Willis. Mary Lou Williams, pianist, arranger, composer, secured and supervised the debut recording of the group. The album was entitled Trends on the Disc label -a subsidiary of Asch Records. The Strings received a highly favorable review in the May 29, 1949 DownBeat Magazine in which Kennedy was called “the cleanest violin we’ve ever heard”.

Joe studied Applied Music at Carnegie Mellon University and received a BS Degree in Music from Virginia State College (University). He then became a staff member of the Richmond Public Schools system and Director of Band at Virginia Union University. During the summers, he returned to Pittsburgh to earn a Masters Degree in Music Education from Duquesne University. He was associated with Richmond Public Schools for 32 years as Instrumental Music Specialist, Supervisor of Music, and, Supervisor of Secondary Arts and Humanities. During that time he, and Dr. Thomas Bridge, became the first African-American musicians to be admitted into the Richmond Symphony. He was Resident Violinist with the Richmond Symphony from 1963-1981. In addition to his school duties and symphony obligations, he arranged and recorded with Ahmad Jamal; plus, traveled abroad with the Benny Carter All-Stars; and, performed at numerous concerts and festivals throughout the United States and, Europe. He was adjunct faculty in the African-American Studies Department of Virginia Commonwealth University (1973-1984) where he developed and instructed a course entitled, “An Introduction to African-American Music”. Throughout it all Kennedy continued to write. His compositions Be Sure, Tempo, Surreal, and Opticas, among others, received critical acclaim.

In 1984 Kennedy was selected as Director of Jazz Studies, Department of Music, at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (VA Tech) in Blacksburg. From 1993-94 he served as Composer In Residence for the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra, commissioned by Victoria Bond, Conductor. His composition “Sketches for Solo Violin, Jazz Trio, and Symphony Orchestra” has been performed by orchestras in Augusta, GA; Wilmington, DE; Chautauqua, NY among others. Mr. Kennedy retired as Professor Emeritus of Music from VA Tech in 1995.

Joe Kennedy, Jr. toured the world as a violinist and composer. His international credits include tours of Japan; the North Sea Jazz Festival at the Hague, Holland; Grande Parade du Jazz, Nice, France; and the Birmingham, England International Jazz Festival. He appeared in “A Salute to Duke Ellington” at the Kennedy Center, which was televised nationally. He also performed at the Concord and Monterey Jazz Festivals; the New York Kool Jazz Festival, Carnegie Hall; as guest violinist with the Modern Jazz Quartet at the Richmond (VA) Jazz Festival; as violin soloist at the Aspen, Colorado Music Festival; and, at the San Francisco Jazz Festival. Kennedy’s career and many of his compositions were featured in the British documentary, “Fiddlers Three”.

The talented violinist and composer can be heard on a number of recordings: Joe Kennedy, Jr., Strings By Candlelight, Cap Records, Red Anchor Productions; Joe Kennedy, Jr. and Toots Thielemans, Accentuate the Positive, Cap Records, Red Anchor Productions; The Definitive Black and Blue Sessions: Joe Kennedy, Jr., Falling In Love with Love, Black and Blue Records, Night and Day Productions; Ahmad Jamal, The Essence Part 2, Birdology Records; Billy Taylor, Where’ve You Been?, Concord Records; John Lewis, Kansas City Breaks, Red Baron Records; and, The Heath Brothers, Brothers and Others, Antilles Records.

Mr. Kennedy’s Personal Statement: “I am grateful for the support of my wife and manager, Jennifer Copeland-Kennedy, and my children, Joe Kennedy III and Victoria Kennedy. I would like to extend special thanks to the Richmond Jazz Society, Incorporated for its continued sincere encouragement. “

Joe Kennedy, Jr. (1923-2004)

*Bio from Award presentation.