Phyllis Kinney. The musician from Michigan

Collections / music - Posted 23-03-2020

Phyllis Kinney’s life is a journey from America to Aberystwyth, and from an early career as an operatic singer to becoming one of the foremost authorities on Welsh traditional music.

Phyllis Kinney (now enjoying her 97th year)  was born in Pontiac, Michigan near Detroit on 4 July 1922 – Independence Day. She was educated at Pontiac High School and then the Michigan State College, East Lansing where she specialised in music and graduated in 1943. Such was her vocal talent that she secured a fellowship at the Juilliard School of Music, New York where she studied for 3 years. In 1947 she became the lead solo with the Carl Rosa opera company, and while touring in Bangor, North Wales met Meredydd Evans (1919-2015) whom she married on 10 April 1948. Their daughter Eluned was born during the summer of 1949, and their married life was mostly spent in Wales, apart from a period of eight years from 1952 to 1960 which they spent in America – with her parents in Pontiac, in Princeton and in Cambridge Mass. She continued her musical career, performing in an opera by the American composer Roger Sessions in Princeton in 1955, and also teaching music in primary and secondary schools.

After returning to Wales she contributed to BBC light entertainment programmes, as a singer and also became a presenter and specialist researcher for television programmes. Her musical interest varies from American musicals to Welsh folk songs and she has spent the last few decades researching music manuscripts and publications at the National Library of Wales, Sain Ffagan and Bangor University. This was the background to her notable work, Welsh Traditional Music (University of Wales Press, 2011), which is the authoritative book on Welsh traditional music from its beginning to the present day. She has also contributed numerous articles to journals (notably in Canu Gwerin and Hanes Cerddoriaeth Cymru: Welsh Music History) and has published several books on Welsh folk music, and songbooks for children, some co-authored by Meredydd Evans. She was awarded an honorary M Mus degree by the University of Wales in 1991 and became honorary fellow of Bangor University alongside her husband in 1997.

The archives of Meredydd Evans and Phyllis Kinney, which were kindly donated to the National Library is a treasure trove of information about Welsh traditional music. Phyllis Kinney’s’ files (over 30 boxes) containing detailed and meticulous notes and analysis of tunes, with information about musicians and collectors of music. Her systematic approach, looking at rhythm, cadence, form, harmony and modes meant that she could confidently state in a letter to the poet Keith Bosley that the most popular folk metre in Welsh folk song is the trochaic tetrameter quatrain; and write an article on the connection between ‘Migldi Magldi and a particular Irish / Welsh tune family. Her correspondence shows her generosity in answering enquiries and providing support for students, researchers and fellow enthusiasts worldwide. The archive reflects the way she embraced Wales, its people and its culture, becoming a fluent Welsh speaker and elevating Welsh traditional music through her musicological studies.

Nia Mai Daniel
Rheolwr Rhaglen | Programme Manager
Yr Archif Gerddorol Gymreig | The Welsh Music Archive

@cerddllgc | @MusicNLW

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