Though the recipient of classical training, violinist Joe Kennedy, Jr. is best known for his work in jazz, performing alongside his cousin, the saxophonist Benny Carter, as well as pianists Hank Jones and George Shearing. Kennedy was born in Pittsburgh in 1923, and his childhood friends included another future jazz great, pianist Ahmad Jamal. Inspired by classical violin grandmaster Yehudi Menuhin, Kennedy went on to perform with the Camp Lee Symphony Orchestra in Petersburg, VA, during World War II, but after his Army tenure ended he returned to Pittsburgh, joining Jamal, guitarist Ray Crawford, and bassist Edgar Willis in the jazz combo the Four Strings. Their Mary Lou Williams-produced debut, Trends, appeared on the Disc label in 1949, with Down Beat dubbing Kennedy's work "the cleanest violin we've ever heard." After studying applied music at Carnegie Mellon, Kennedy moved on to Virginia State College, earning a staff teaching position with the Richmond public school system. He remained a Richmond educator for 32 years in the capacities of instrumental music specialist, supervisor of music, and eventually supervisor of secondary arts and humanities -- among his students was the future tennis great Arthur Ashe. In 1962 Kennedy recorded what would remain his sole jazz date as a leader for close to two decades: the Red Anchor release Strings by Candlelight, which featured contributions from Hank Jones, guitarist Kenny Burrell, and bassist Milt Hinton. The following year he was the first African-American musician admitted to the Richmond Symphony, remaining resident violinist for the next 18 years; during that time he also recorded with Jamal, toured as a member of the Benny Carter All-Stars, and composed a handful of original songs, including "Be Sure," "Tempo," and "Opticas." After reuniting with Jones and recruiting bassist Major Holley and drummer Oliver Jackson, Kennedy again assumed a leadership role for 1980's Magnifique!, released via the French Black and Blue label. (The sessions were reissued in 2002 under the title Falling in Love with Love.) Kennedy retired as Professor Emeritus of Music from Virginia Tech in 1995; he died April 17, 2004, in Richmond.
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