Marjory Kennedy-Fraser

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Marjory Kennedy-Fraser in her 40s.

Marjory Kennedy-Fraser, née Marjory Kennedy (1 October 1857 – 22 November 1930) was a Scottish singer, composer and arranger.


Marjory was born in Perth to a well-known Scottish singer, David Kennedy and his second wife, Elizabeth Fraser. As a child she used to accompany her father on his tours in Scotland and abroad, playing the piano while he sang. Various of her siblings were also professional musicians, and three of them (Lizzie, Kate and James — soprano, contralto and baritone respectively) died in the fire that burnt down the Théâtre municipal of Nice, France, in 1881.[1] Her youngest sister Jessie married the pianist and teacher Tobias Matthay.[2] Their father David Kennedy died aged 61 in 1886 in Ontario, Canada, while on a tour.

In 1887 she married Alec Yule Fraser (born 1857), her mother's younger cousin, whom she had first met in 1882 in Aberdeen. Alec had completed in 1881 his MA with Honours at the University of Aberdeen and in 1885 was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. In 1889, he was appointed headmaster of Allan Glen's Technical School in Glasgow, and the family moved there. However, his health began to deteriorate and he was diagnosed with pneumonia. The couple travelled to South Africa, where the hotter weather contributed for Alec's health to improve considerably, but as soon as they returned to Glasgow, he became ill again and died in November 1890. Marjory thus found herself a widow at the age of thirty-three, and with her two small children, David and Patuffa, to look after. She settled at Edinburgh with her mother and made her living as a music teacher and lecturer.

She developed a close friendship with the painter John Duncan, with whom she shared a deep interest in the Celtic Revival. They made a trip to Eriskay in 1905, in which occasion he painted her against the island's landscape.[3] While in Eriskay, Marjory witnessed many Gaelic folk songs endangered of disappearing as a result of population decline, and, being herself a singer, began a personal project to record and transcribe the music of the Hebrides.

In the following years, she visited many of the islands to the west of Scotland, recording the traditional songs with a wax cylinder phonograph. She later arranged them for voice and piano, or sometimes for harp or clàrsach —an instrument her daughter Helen Patuffa played. The arrangements, with words translated to English by the Rev. Kenneth MacLeod, were published in her three-volume Songs of the Hebrides in the years 1909, 1917 and 1921. A fourth volume, From the Hebrides: Further Gleanings of Tale and Song, followed in 1925. One of the songs included in this collection eventually came to be widely known by the title "Eriskay Love Lilt".

Incidentally, the Rev. Kenneth MacLeod with whom she often collaborated was a famous poet in both Gaelic and English and the long time Church of Scotland minister of Gigha. He is perhaps best known for "The Road to the Isles" and "Thou Isle of Mull" and was related to such other literary figures as the journalist James Cameron and the writer Dr. John Cameron of St. Andrews.

For her contributions she was awarded with a CBE, together with an honorary degree of Doctor of Music from the University of Edinburgh, awarded in 1928. In 1930 she presented her archive of songs to the University Library, including her original wax cylinders of recordings. These have been re-recorded on tape for the Sound Archives of the School of Scottish Studies. Marjory Kennedy-Fraser died in Edinburgh in the same year.


Marjory and her daughter Patuffa used to present the collected songs in recitals. Below is a description of one such recital given at the Aeolian Hall, New York, on 17 March 1916.

Mrs. Marjory Kennedy-Fraser and her daughter, Patuffa Kennedy-Fraser, appeared for the first time here at Aeolian Hall last night in a recital of folk songs of the Hebrides. They have come into the possession of this material by collecting it at first hand during trips made for the purpose to the group of islands off the Scottish coast which are known as the Hebrides. The unaffectedness and evident sincerity of the artists is one of the chief charms of their work. Each plays piano accompaniments for the other, and the daughter used for several of the songs the small Celtic harp, which is played in a half kneeling position. The music itself is most interesting. The subjects range from poetic rhapsodies founded on the natural features of the islands or its life to the homelier songs that are sung as an accompaniment to various forms of manual labor. They are prefaced generally with a short talk explaining their origin and the manner in which they were heard and written down.

The Russian tenor, Vladimir Rosing frequently performed Kennedy-Fraser's songs in his London recitals. Ezra Pound, reporting as William Atheling in the New Age, declared that Rosing was "the first singer who has been adequate to the music." [5]

See also


  1. RareTunes Musical Laboratory Services, Scotland.
  2. Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 5th ed., 1954, Vol. V, p. 632
  3. John Duncan's painting of Marjory Kennedy-Fraser in Eriskay
  4. Mrs. Kennedy-Fraser and Daughter Charm by Their Sincerity.
  5. William Atheling, The New Age, April 17, 1919

External links