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Irvine Robert Laurie (Lauri) Kennedy (1896–1985)

by Peter Campbell

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Irvine Robert Laurie (Lauri) Kennedy (1896-1985), cellist, was born on 5 July 1896 at Randwick, Sydney, third son of English-born Samuel Robert Kennedy, commission agent, and his New South Wales-born wife Bertha Frederickson, née Chapman. Daisy Kennedy was his cousin. Laurie had no formal education. He began performing in 1906 as the comic turn with the family troupe, the Kennedy Concert Company, as they toured Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and India. Starting with the piano and progressing to the cello, he showed striking musical promise. After studying with Herbert Walenn at the Royal College of Music, London, and Paul Brummer in Vienna, he toured with his brothers before settling in Melbourne. In 1916 he was appointed professor of violoncello at the Albert Street Conservatorium, East Melbourne. There he was noticed by (Dame) Nellie Melba, who encouraged him to pursue further study in New York. On 12 August 1918 at St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney, he married with Catholic rites Dorothy Evelyn McBride, a pianist. After touring Australia on the Fullers theatre circuit, they had saved enough to follow Melba’s advice.

Leaving Australia in 1919, the Kennedys were offered positions as assisting artists on the 1920 tour of the United States of America by the Irish tenor John McCormack. Lauri (having dropped the `e’) maintained an association with McCormack for over six years, on stage and in recordings. In 1921 the Kennedys moved to London, where Lauri accompanied the Russian bass Feodor Chaliapin, appeared in numerous Royal Albert Hall recitals, and toured with artists including Melba, McCormack and Luisa Tetrazzini. Already a celebrated soloist, in 1930 for the British Broadcasting Corporation he became principal cellist in (Sir) Adrian Boult’s BBC Symphony Orchestra. In 1935 he joined the London Philharmonic and Covent Garden orchestras. He also performed with several chamber ensembles, notably the Kreisler and London string quartets and the Chamber Music Players, and became a professor at the RCM.

Early in 1938 the Kennedys toured Australia for the Australian Broadcasting Commission, Lauri being celebrated for his `great artistry’. Returning to the USA in June, he joined Arturo Toscanini’s National Broadcasting Company orchestra and then settled in Hollywood, where he recorded many film scores, including that of Disney’s Fantasia. Back in Australia in 1944, the Kennedys decided to rest from the rigours of performance. They purchased Fotheringham’s Hotel, Taree, New South Wales, and later the Phillip Hotel, Sydney. From 1947 Lauri was again a soloist in ABC subscription series. He tutored at youth music camps until 1966, when Ernest Llewellyn appointed him lecturer in cello at the new Canberra School of Music; he resigned at the end of the year due to poor health.

Jovial and energetic, `with a touch of Rudolf Valentino’ in his appearance, Kennedy was admired both on and off the platform. He did not possess the most powerful tone, especially later in his career, but his playing—aided by his 1713 Grancino cello—was as beautiful and sensuous as any of his day. Predeceased (1972) by Dorothy, Lauri Kennedy died on 26 April 1985 at Sacramento, California, where he had lived with their eldest son, David; he was cremated.

Lauri’s second son, John Kennedy (1922-1980), was born on 22 December 1922 in London. Early in his life John was adopted by Florence Atkin-Swan, whose surname he adopted until after her death. Educated at Brighton College, he entered Balliol College, Oxford, but abandoned law after winning a scholarship to study cello at the Royal Academy of Music, London, in 1943. Next year he married Priscilla Stoner, a pianist. He joined the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (1946) and became principal cellist (1947) with the Liverpool Symphony Orchestra. In 1949 he was reunited with his parents when he was appointed to the Sydney Symphony Orchestra as principal cellist under (Sir) Eugene Goossens.

Like his father, Kennedy was an entertaining, sometimes flamboyant, character who played with `gentle refinement and silky tone’. In Sydney he also appeared with the ABC String Quartet. Resigning from the SSO in 1951, he returned to England and became principal cellist (1952) in Sir Thomas Beecham’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Divorced from his first wife, in 1958 in England he married Joan Dargavel Skyrme, a singer, known professionally as Joan Dargavel, with whom he travelled to Australia in 1959 to become senior lecturer in cello at the University of Melbourne; they were later divorced. In 1965 he was made a fellow of the Royal Academy of Music, London. He played with the Ormond and Melbourne trios and appeared frequently in concerts and broad­casts until ill health forced his retirement in 1975. John Kennedy died of chronic liver disease on 9 February 1980 at Box Hill and was cremated. He was survived by the son of his first marriage, Nigel, an internationally renowned violinist, and two daughters of his second, one of whom, Laurien, a cellist, won the ABC Instrumental and Vocal Competition in 1978.

Select Bibliography

  • I. Moresby, Australia Makes Music (1948)
  • P. Sametz, Play On! (1992)
  • Australian Musical News, Apr 1916, p 299, Dec 1937, p 2, Apr 1938, p 6, May 1938, p 28
  • Canon, July 1949, p 572
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 7 June 1952, p 11
  • Herald (Melbourne), 11 Feb 1980, p 12
  • Age (Melbourne), 13 Oct 1991, `Sunday Agenda’, p 4.

Citation details

Peter Campbell, 'Kennedy, Irvine Robert Laurie (Lauri) (1896–1985)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 15 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


5 July, 1896
Randwick, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


26 April, 1985 (aged 88)
Sacramento, California, United States of America

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