Thursday, January 23, 2014

Pittsburgh Music History: 'Patricia Prattis Jennings, Pianist and First African American Woman Member of an American Symphony'

LIVING LEGACY—Honoree and retired Pittsburgh Symphony pianist Patricia Prattis Jennings experiences the Oral History exhibit PNC Legacy Building. She and Urban League President and CEO Esther Bush, background, were among the 12 honorees in the Black History Month display.

Patricia Prattis Jennings (b. 1941)

Pianist Patricia Prattis Jennings became the first African American woman ever to be awarded a full contract by a major American symphony orchestra breaking centuries of discrimination in the world of classical music.  In 1966 she became the principal keyboardist for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra playing piano, harpsichord, organ and celesta. She gained national attention working with Arthur Fielder, Benny Goodman, and Andrew Previn.  In  1971 Arthur Fielder hired her for a series of concerts with the World Symphony Orchestra. She performed Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" with legendary clarinetist Benny Goodman in 1977 in concerts at New York’s Carnegie Hall, Wolftrap, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles, and Concord Pavilion in California.  

Appearing on the 1977 premiere of the PBS series "Previn and the Pittsburgh" Jennings performed four-hand Mozart sonatas with Andre Previn.  She appeared as a soloist again on "Previn and the Pittsburgh” in 1978 performing the Mozart Concerto for Two Pianos with the Pittsburgh Symphony.  Jennings gained critical acclaim for her performance of the Gershwin Concerto in F on the Pittsburgh Symphony's 1987 international tour appearing at festivals in Hong Kong, Osaka, Tokyo, and Edinburgh Scotland.  Jennings is one of the duo pianists on Pittsburgh Symphony’s award winning recording of Saint Saens "Carnival of the Animals". She is a Steinway piano artist and was honored as a Distinguished Daughter of Pennsylvania.

Patricia Prattis Jennings was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1941. Her father P.L. Prattis, was the editor of the Pittsburgh Courier and a classical music fan. Her mother played classical piano.

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