Nigel Kennedy was born in Brighton (UK) on 28 December 1956. As a ten-year-old he would pick out Fats Waller tunes on the piano after hearing his stepfather’s jazz records. At the age of seven, he became a pupil at the Yehudi Menuhin School of Music. He later studied at the Juilliard School in New York City with Dorothy DeLay.
He made his recording debut in 1984 with Elgar’s Violin Concerto. His subsequent recording of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons with the English Chamber Orchestra in 1989 sold over two million copies and earned a place as one of the best-selling classical recordings ever. The album remained at the top of the UK classical charts for over a year, with total sales of over three million units.
Kennedy published his autobiography, Always Playing, in 1991. He then withdrew completely from public performance, at which point he made the album Music in Colours with Stephen Duffy. He returned to the international concert platform five years later. In 1997, he received an award for Outstanding Contribution to British Music at the BRIT Awards, and in 2001 received the ‘Male Artist of the Year’ award.
Meanwhile, he also recorded with other artists. He made an appearance on Robert Plant’s solo album ‘Fate of Nations’, on the track ‘Calling To You’ in 1993.
Kennedy also played on several Kate Bush tracks: Experiment IV (1986), The Fog, Heads We’re Dancing (1989), Top Of The City and Big Stripey Lie (1993). On 27 November 2000, Kennedy joined rock group The Who at the Royal Albert Hall to play the violin solo in the song “Baba O’Riley”, released three years later on the album Live at the Royal Albert Hall. He contributed a cover of Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Fire’ for the 1993 album ‘Stone Free: A Tribute To Jimi Hendrix’. In 2000, he recorded a concerto inspired by the Doors.
Kennedy returned to the 2008 Proms after an absence of 21 years, performing Elgar’s Violin Concerto and a late-night Prom with the Nigel Kennedy Quintet. He recorded two albums with this quintet in 2008 and 2009. In 2013 he recorded the jazz album ‘Recital’, featuring works by Fats Waller and Dave Brubeck, among others. His 2016 album ‘My World’ featured own compositions exclusively.
Kate about Nigel Kennedy
The thing about Nigel is, he’s such a brilliant musician. He’s taken classical music to the people, it’s ‘street cred’ now, it’s not just elite stuff. The other thing about Nigel is he’s just such a lovely person. Everyone loves him and I’m just so glad to have him as a friend. (This is your life, BBC Television, 14 March 1990)