October 21, 2004
Music was Louise Lincoln Kerr’s life — so much so that she wouldn’t let a little thing like dying get in the way of her art.
"When she passed away, she was still composing," says Carolyn Broe, conductor of the Four Seasons Orchestra in Scottsdale.
"Right into the hospital, she composed a string quartet for a friend, right at the end. She even had her viola in the hospital room."
Kerr died in 1977 at age 85. She was a musician, composer and lover of the arts who moved with her husband and eight children from Ohio to Flagstaff in 1936. In 1951, the family moved to Phoenix, and over the next 26 years Kerr was instrumental in the growth of the Valley’s classical music scene.
Kerr, "The Grand Lady of Arizona Music," will be inducted, along with three other Arizona women, into the Arizona Women’s Hall of Fame at 3 p.m. today at the Carnegie Center in Phoenix.
"I like to say, Louise Kerr finally made it to Carnegie Hall," says Broe, who did her doctoral thesis on Kerr at Arizona State University and nominated Kerr for the Hall of Fame in March.
"When she moved here," says Marshall Trimble, Arizona’s official state historian, "Phoenix was still pretty much a cowtown. And if people went to cultural events, they usually went with the cow manure still on their boots."
Kerr changed all that.
She joined the Phoenix Symphony as a violist and donated money and property to the fledgling organization.
She helped develop many cultural organizations in the Valley and Flagstaff: The Phoenix Chamber Music Society, Scottsdale Center for the Arts, National Society of Arts and Letters, Arizona Composers Society, Monday Morning Musicals, Bach and Madrigal Society, Young Audiences, Musicians Club and Phoenix Cello Society (now the Arizona Cello Society).
But her most visible Valley contribution is ASU’s Kerr Cultural Center. The former Scottsdale home and studio, which Kerr bequeathed along with her manuscripts to the university, was originally built to perform the music that she wrote.
From 1940 to 1977, Kerr composed nearly 100 pieces, including symphonic scores, ballets and a violin concerto.
"The music she composed was very personal and was not for commercial reasons," says William Bagwell, who met Kerr in 1958 when he came to the Phoenix Symphony as principal violist. Kerr was a viola player in his section.
"She didn’t have to have an audience," says Bagwell, 89, of Cave Creek. "This was for fun. Her group of friends would play her music. And we all enjoyed it, too, because it was hers."
"She wasn’t doing it for recognition or to be put in the papers," says Rosemary Dykstra, Kerr’s daughter. "It was generosity from her heart, really."
Kerr kept her manuscripts at the studio for students and worthwhile musicians to use.
"I had such respect for her. And I knew that she composed," says Charles Lewis. Now 71, the professional pianist was one of the musicians who benefited from Kerr’s generosity.
"Very often I would bring pieces that I had composed. And she would always listen and comment. So she was a source of positive energy, and she was always encouraging."
Lewis lived in a cottage near Kerr’s home at the artist’s colony known as "The Shacks," which Kerr established on her property in 1959.
"That’s where I really got to know her very well," Lewis says. He spent many evenings dining with Kerr and her friends.
Kerr loved to cook and entertain, Dykstra says. Often, after Phoenix Symphony concerts, Kerr would hold parties at her Scottsdale studio.
"Sometimes the artists would come, and they would do some chamber playing — you might call it classical jams," Lewis says. At one party, Lewis saw Kerr talking to a woman who looked out of place. Later he asked Kerr who the woman was.
"I’m not really sure," Kerr told him, "but she really needed somebody. So I thought I better go over and spend a little time with her."
"That’s the kind of woman she was," Lewis says. "She was just Louise Kerr who was interested in music and interested in people and really cared."
Bagwell calls Kerr " ‘The Mother of Musical Integrity in the Community,’ because she was honest, she didn’t care for showmanship or the display of celebrity stuff — she just wanted good music."
"If she were here (today) she would be honored," says Dykstra, who will accept her mother’s award. "She’d like to make a very short and sweet speech, and that would have been it. She would have much rather invited them for dinner."
Hall of fame
Louise Lincoln Kerr is one of four Arizona women to be inducted into the reformed Arizona Women’s Hall of Fame today.
This year’s other inductees are:
• Veora Johnson, first black principal of Mesa schools.
• Winona E. Montgomery, who fought for improved regulation of nursing homes.
• Award-winning author, educator and scholar Clara Lee Tanner, who was an authority on Southwest American Indian arts and crafts. Details: The induction ceremony, open to the public, will be 3 to 5 p.m. today at the Carnegie Center, 1101 W. Washington St., Phoenix. Gov. Janet Napolitano and former Gov. Rose Mofford will be among the invited guests during the event, which will feature musical performances, displays and light refreshments; $25 donation. For reservations, call Leslie Norton at (602) 258-4197, Ext. 3, or (800) 255-5841. For more information about the Arizona Women’s Hall of Fame — including biographies of this year’s inductees — visit http://dev.lib.az.us/awhof/events.cfm.