Who is Anne Gamble Kennedy?
Anne Lucile Gamble was born in Charleston, West Virginia to Dr. Henry Floyd Gamble and the former Nina Hortense Clinton of Zanesville, Ohio. She was the younger of two children born to that union. She also had two older step-siblings, Katherine Lee Gamble and Henry Floyd Gamble, Jr. One of the first African-American graduates of the Yale Medical School, her father Henry Gamble had to "pass" for white in order to complete his education. Anne was eleven years old when her father was killed in a car accident in 1932. Dr. Gamble’s mother had been a slave on the Howard’s Neck Plantation in Goochland County, Virginia. His father Henry Harmon Gamble was a foreman on the same plantation, and was of Scotch-Irish and Native-American descent. Anne’s mother was an accomplished teacher and was one of the Jubilee Singers at Wilberforce University. While on tour with the Wilberforce Jubilee Singers in London, she witnessed and photographed the coronation of King Edward VII in 1901.
Anne Gamble received her early education in the segregated public schools of Charleston. Matriculating at Fisk University in 1937, she graduated cum laude in 1941 with a Bachelor of Arts degree. Her further education included a Bachelor of Music degree from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, with additional study at the Juilliard School of Music, George Peabody College, and artist training with pianist Ray Lev in New York.
Early in her career, Gamble had been engaged to appear as piano soloist with the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra in a performance of Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto. A few months before the concert, the conductor died suddenly. Her contract was canceled by the conductor's replacement due to suspected racist sentiment. She also auditioned for Duke Ellington while he was in Charleston, who invited her to perform in New York. As a performing artist and teacher, she launched a concert career after serving on the piano faculties of HBCUs Tuskegee Institute and Talladega College. Her career was interrupted when she accepted an invitation extended by Professor John Wesley Work III in 1950 to teach piano at Fisk University for one semester. The “one semester” resulted in Anne Gamble’s tenure of thirty-two years. For seventeen of her years at Fisk, she served as accompanist and piano soloist with the Fisk Jubilee Singers under directors John Wesley Work and Matthew Kennedy, traveling with them throughout the United States, the Bahamas, and Europe, and performing with them on television, radio, and stage throughout Eastern Europe. In 1956 she married Matthew Kennedy. Their daughter is a pianist, filmmaker, and orchestral conductor Nina Kennedy.
Anne Gamble and famed contralto Marian Anderson were dear friends and colleagues. The two met when Anderson stayed in Dr. Gamble's home while in Charleston because, as an African-American, she was not allowed to stay in hotels.
Anne Gamble Kennedy and her husband traveled and performed widely as duo pianists, and were especially known for their rendition of Mozart's Sonata for Two Pianos. She received critical acclaim for her performances of Norman dello Joio's A Jubilant Song and Undine Smith Moore's Lord We Give Thanks to Thee with the Fisk Jubilee Singers under Matthew Kennedy at New York's Carnegie Hall and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. Her final faculty recital at Fisk in 1970 included the Liszt Sonata, Bach-Tausig's Toccata and Fugue in D minor, Chopin's Barcarolle, Ravel's Valses Nobles et Sentimentales, and John W. Work's Appalachia Suite. She received critical acclaim for her performance of Beethoven's Choral Fantasy as piano soloist with the Nashville Symphony and the Fisk University Choir.
After her retirement from Fisk, Kennedy was widely praised for her performances of her own arrangement of Albert Malotte’s "The Lord’s Prayer." She participated in many community activities including The Women’s Advisory Committee of the Tennessee Performing Arts Foundation; music consultant for the Fine Arts Committee of the Nashville Chamber of Commerce; member of “The Outing” Committee; Nashville Symphony Benefit; Vice President of the John W. Work, III Memorial Foundation; the Nashville Chapter of Links, Inc.; and a Life Member of the NAACP. A music scholarship at Fisk University has been named in honor of Anne Gamble Kennedy and her husband: The Matthew and Anne Gamble Kennedy Scholarship Fund.
A portrait of Anne Gamble Kennedy, created by the famous artist Aaron Douglas, was unveiled at the Van Vechten Gallery at Fisk University on
June 1, 1954. Aaron Douglas (May 26, 1899 – February 3, 1979) was an American painter, illustrator, and visual arts educator. He was a major figure in the Harlem Renaissance. He developed his art career painting murals and creating illustrations that addressed social issues around race and segregation in the United States by utilizing African-centric imagery. Douglas set the stage for young, African-American artists to enter public art realm through his involvement with the Harlem Artists Guild. In 1944, he concluded his art career by founding the Art Department at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. He taught visual art classes at Fisk until his retirement in 1966. Douglas is known as a prominent leader in modern African-American art whose work influenced artists for years to come.
Click Here for the NY Times articles about Aaron Douglas founding the
Fisk Arts Department.
Click Here to view a pdf image of the original program
A Look Back at the Life and Legacy of Anne Gamble Kennedy
Nina Kennedy curated a virtual exhibit to celebrate the 100th birthday of Fisk professor Anne Gamble Kennedy on her life and career. In the exhibit, you will see photographs and newspaper articles on her concerts and tours with the Fisk Jubilee Singers, as well as a commissioned portrait by esteemed artist Aaron Douglas. There is correspondence to then Miss Gamble from John W. Work III and Fisk President Charles S. Johnson, as well as personal notes from Duke Ellington, Marian Anderson, W.C. Handy, et al. You will also hear music from her newly released 1947 studio recording, and her arrangement of The Lord's Prayer performed by her husband Matthew Kennedy. Purchase at Celebrate Life's Moments.