Marjory Kennedy-Fraser

1 October 1857 – 22 November 1930

Singer, composer and arranger

Marjory Kennedy-Fraser, née Marjory Kennedy was a Scottish singer, composer and arranger.

Marjory was born in Perth to a well-known Scottish singer, David Kennedy. As a child she used to accompany her father on his tours in Scotland and abroad, playing the piano while he sang. Her father died aged 61 in 1886 in Ontario, Canada, while on a tour.

In 1887 she married Alec Yule Fraser, whom she had first met in 1882 in Aberdeen. 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. 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 were published, with words translated to English by the Rev. Kenneth MacLeod, in her three-volume Songs of the Hebrides (in the years 1909, 1917 and 1921), with a fourth volume, From the Hebrides, following a few years later. One of these songs became widely known with 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.

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.

The Russian tenor, Vladimir Rosing frequently performed Kennedy-Fraser's songs in his London recitals.  

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