By Barney Blakeney
December 21 and 22 the Charles A. Brown High Alumni Association recognized former band teacher and legendary Charleston saxophonist George Kenny as the guest of honor, with proclamations from the City of Charleston and Charleston County at its semi-annual Christmas Gala. The December gala banquet was preceded by a December 21 informal “Apollo Night” when former band members played and marched old school style.
Former C.A. Brown High trumpeter and Killen, TX band director Arthur Bryan began coordinating the event early in 2018. Former band members from around the country ultimately converged at the weekend event held in North Charleston to honor Kenny.
The alumnus honored Kenny saying, “Faced with difficult challenges and countless hours of sacrifices our honoree, Charleston musician and saxophonist Mr. George Kenny, was an exceptional leader who continued to make real the fundamental truth that teachers who loved their profession and believed in their students can make a difference.”
Kenny, 86, has distinguished himself as a premier saxophonist. He played at his former Bonds-Wilson High counterpart and Charleston County Council Chairman Lonnie Hamilton’s 90th birthday celebration in November 2017. Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg and the City of Charleston sponsored the party for Hamilton at the City Art Gallery. Kenny was there playing with Steve Simon and the Kings of Jazz.
Kenny grew up in Charleston and graduated from Burke High School where he was the lead trumpet player in the band. After graduation, he served his country as a member of the United States Air Force Band during the Korean War. Upon leaving the United States Air Force, he enrolled at South Carolina State College (SCSU) to pursue a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Music Education. His band teaching assignments led him to Jenkins Orphanage, Lane High School, and Charles Allen Brown High School.
Kenny stood out as the very first band director at the new school, East Side High School. The name was later changed to Charles Allen Brown High School (C. A. Brown). The school doors opened in 1962 and closed in 1982. During that time Mr. Kenny inspired many students to join the band program which made history on the East Side of Charleston. Many of his band students competed and made “All State Band” throughout his years as band director. The band could be heard through the streets of Charleston during many parades, such as the Christmas Parade and Emancipation Proclamation Parade as well as during many numerous football games at Stoney Field. Many of his students created their own bands such as “The Soul Variations”, “United Sounds” and “Royal Entertainers.”
Kenny started the first stage band in Charleston at Charles Allen Brown High in 1968. The stage band and concert bands played on The Battery in Charleston, in Mount Pleasant and was the pit band for the local productions of “My Fair Lady” and “Hello Dolly.”
“Hello Dolly” was performed by C.A. Brown High School students at the Gaillard Municipal Auditorium. Opening Night was such a success many patrons were turned away due to the fire code. Then-Charleston Mayor Palmer Gillard requested that the school have a matinee performance for those who were turned away. This final performance took place in 1970.
The alums said Kenny has given much of his time, energy, money, talents and complete dedication to developing many generations of music educators, band directors, college and university professors, musicians and music lovers. Many of his former students still are teaching and performing music. All of whom received their humble beginnings from “Doc” Kenny.