The Noshing with Nina Show:
Nina Kennedy, Executive Producer
April Gibson, Director and Co-Producer
Documentary Film Synopsis
Nina Kennedy is the host of The Noshing with Nina Show, an award-winning cable television talk show produced at Manhattan Neighborhood Network. She is also a former child-prodigy, concert pianist, author, and conductor. She was born in Nashville, Tennessee to parents who were on the music faculty at Fisk University, which was one of the first HBCUs founded after the Civil War by the American Missionary Association. Its doors were kept open by proceeds from concerts given by a group of students who sang plantation folk songs for the crowned-heads of Europe. That group of students became internationally known as the Fisk Jubilee Singers.
Nina’s father was director of the Fisk Jubilee Singers for nearly thirty years, and her mother served as piano accompanist for the group. Both of her parents also taught piano, so she began her life as a child prodigy while growing up on the campus. She gave her first complete solo piano recital at nine years old, and appeared as piano soloist with the Nashville Symphony when she was thirteen.
The film takes an interesting turn when it is revealed that both of Nina’s parents had dreamed of careers as concert pianists themselves, but had felt that American racism played a part in keeping their dreams from being realized. After her parents’ deaths, while going through boxes of their papers she finds hundreds of letters written by her maternal grandmother – some to her own parents while she was traveling with the Jubilee Singers in Great Britain (the earliest written in 1900), and some to her daughter (Nina’s mother) after she left home for college. In these papers she also finds an autographed photo and seven typed pages titled “A Few Notes on the Life of Leota Henson,” who was the piano accompanist for this group of Jubilee Singers that traveled the world. Leota Henson was the first African-American woman to study piano at the Leipzig Conservatory in Leipzig, Germany (founded by composer Felix Mendelssohn), and the best friend of Nina’s grandmother. She eventually founded the first YWCA for Colored Women in Detroit.
The camera records Nina’s discovery that she is in a long line of African-American women pianists, who have been ignored in American history, and whose memory is being resurrected by this film. In spite of having a master’s degree from the Juilliard School, Nina herself has experienced racism, sexism, and discrimination in the classical music field, and details her encounters in the film.
The film documents Nina’s New York Debut at Lincoln Center and New York Times review. It also covers her trip to Vienna, Austria, where she films a music video at the Bösendorfer Salon. The cameras are in the studio for the actual recording of her “Classical/Trap” song with rapper Nejma Nefertiti. The filming of the music video is also part of this segment. Always an educator, the project is part of her effort to turn young kids on to classical music. The cameras are also present at the Stonewall Inn where her house dance hit premiered for World Pride 2019.
Since Nina is the host of The Noshing with Nina Show, there is a montage of footage from some of the episodes of the show which highlight the accomplishments of black women. The camera catches the ease with which she changes hats – from concert pianist to TV talk show host. Her music is heard in the opening of the show, and cameras are present when the show is nominated for and wins a 2019 B Free Award.
The camera also follows Nina on various book signings and readings, as her first book of memoirs is released in 2020.
The film culminates with Nina’s return to her hometown and Fisk University, where she directs the current group of Fisk Jubilee Singers in a master class on her father’s published arrangement of the Spiritual “Steal Away.” Since directors of the Jubilee Singers are traditionally male, for Nina to stand before the group as director is in itself a revolutionary act. The students showed their appreciation with spontaneous applause. Nina then shares stories about the original group of singers while standing in front of the painting of the group commissioned by Queen Victoria. The painting hangs in Jubilee Hall, the first permanent structure built in the United States – in 1876 – for the purpose of educating freed slaves.
Nina also tells the story of Ella Sheppard, pianist, composer, and matriarch of the original Fisk Jubilee Singers, who wrote the original melody utilized by Czech composer Antonín Dvořák in his “Symphony from the New World.”
President Andrew Jackson was Ella Sheppard’s biological uncle. As a young slave girl, she was sold for $350. Her mother was sold away from her when she was still very small. As an adult, while she was on the music faculty at Fisk, she eventually found her elderly mother in Mississippi, and brought her back to spend her final days in her home.
Nina Kennedy is available for orchestral engagements; solo recitals; spoken-word performances; lectures;
screenings of her documentary film Matthew Kennedy: One Man's Journey, followed by Q&As; and book readings of her memoir Practicing for Love, followed by Q&As.