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Louise Lincoln Kerr (1892-1977)
Inducted in 2004
Used by permission from Arizona State University
Born in Cleveland, Ohio on April 24, 1892 to Myrtie and John C. Lincoln, Louise Lincoln Kerr was an Arizona resident for 41 years.
During the early years of the 20th century, most women were prohibited from gaining higher education in musical theory and composition or from holding a position in a professional symphony orchestra. Louise Lincoln Kerr was an exception. She studied with Columbia University professors and won awards in composition at Barnard College. She also studied violin with the famous Dutch virtuoso, Christian Timmner. Timmner was appointed conductor of the early Cleveland Symphony Orchestra and in 1913, Kerr accepted his offer to join the violin section as one of the orchestra’s youngest members and one of the first two women to win a seat.
She was also at the forefront of the recording industry. In the 1920s, she worked at Aeolian Recording Company of New York proofing piano rolls and later was in the sound booth as a trouble-shooter for the first disk recordings of modern music.
In 1936, Louise and her family moved to Arizona. Known in Arizona as the “Grand Lady of Music”, Louise Lincoln Kerr was a charter violinist and benefactor of the Phoenix Symphony, formed in 1947. She contributed both funding and property to the organization.
As a pioneer in the field of ethnomusicology, Louise Lincoln Kerr was invited into the kivas of the Hopi where she recorded their music. This pursuit inspired her to write several orchestral pieces based on Hopi themes. She wrote an orchestral suite entitled “Enchanted Mesa”, which captured the spirit of the Southwest and drew on the legends and music of the Hopi.
During the 1950’s, few women could get their works premiered by university and professional symphonies. The Phoenix Symphony Orchestra performed “Enchanted Mesa” in 1955 and other pieces of Kerr’s music were premiered by Arizona State University and the Sun City Symphony. Throughout her lifetime she produced over 100 works ranging from solos to full orchestral pieces.
Louise was a major benefactor of the School of Music at Arizona State. In addition, she bequeathed her former Scottsdale home and studio to Arizona State University, now known as the Kerr Cultural Center. Louise Lincoln Kerr’s generosity and talent supported the fine arts in Arizona for four decades.
Louise Lincoln Kerr died on December 10, 1977 at the age of 85.