Peter Kennedy

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A busy figure in the world of folk music--producer, author, organizer, and broadcaster.
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Producer, broadcaster, and documentarian Peter Kennedy was a driving force behind Britain's postwar folk revival, collaborating with the influential American archivist Alan Lomax to revive the traditions of the nation's musical past but also helming landmark recording sessions for next-generation torchbearers like Shirley Collins and Ewan MacColl. Born in London on December 18, 1922, Kennedy was born into the roots music tradition. His father, Douglas, served for decades as the director of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, authoring the 1950 history England's Dances: Folk Dancing Today and Yesterday, and his sister Maud accompanied folklorist Cecil Sharp during his song-collecting journey into the Appalachians. As a child Peter gravitated to theater, studying production with the Architectural Association before serving in Britain's Royal Air Force during World War II. While stationed in Italy in 1945, he co-founded a theatrical company comprised of British and American soldiers. Following the war Kennedy returned to London, where he worked for the EFDSS and produced a series of local barn dances prior to joining the staff of the BBC. Operating out of the broadcaster's Bristol studios, Kennedy devised a series of new recording techniques employing portable equipment and parabolic microphones, documenting birdcalls and other natural sounds before earning the opportunity to host his own radio series, Village Barn Dance.

When Lomax traveled to Britain in 1950 to gather material for Columbia Records' Library of Folk and Primitive Music series, he and Kennedy became fast friends, initiating a professional relationship that extended until Lomax's 2002 death. For Columbia, Kennedy journeyed to the 1951 Opatija Folk Festival to record the Yugoslavian entry in the label's World Library series, and two years later Lomax co-produced Kennedy's first documentary film, Oss Oss Wee Oss, a portrait of Padstow's annual hobby-horse celebration. In 1957 Kennedy founded his own label, Folktrax, as a means to issue his already massive archive of field recordings. Its output included broadcasts of the landmark BBC series As I Roved Out as well as early sessions by folksingers William Kimber, Sarah Makem, and Aunt Fanny Rumble. Kennedy later emerged as the premier producer of the first wave of Britain's folk revival, helming Shirley Collins' first two classic LPs for Folkways as well as influential sessions headlined by Ewan MacColl, Cyril Tawney, and Perry Friedman. "Without Peter Kennedy you wouldn't have modern British folklore," Lomax later said. "I helped, but Peter Kennedy did a lot more work than I did…Peter was the anchorman for many, many, many years, steadily making good input." After Lomax's death, Kennedy continued his friend's work, overseeing a number of releases issued in conjunction with Rounder Records' Alan Lomax Archives series. He died in Gloucestershire on June 10, 2006.