Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Beverly Kenney Postscript

More than four decades later, the suicide of jazz singer Beverly Kenney, who appeared to have the world in a jug with the proverbial stopper in her hand, remains a matter of some conjecture amongst followers of the passing jazz parade. Sort of the post-bop Richard Cory.

Only a day or so after I posted my blog entry on Kenney three months ago, I received an email from a person identifying himself as the singer's last lover (of two years, let's call him) Jack. He dated Kenney almost up to the time of her untimely death at age 28 in 1960.

Jack had seen my blog, I phoned him up and we have since spent several hours on the phone talking. I think it is safe to say that my friendship with him has now extended well beyond the Beverly Kenney connection.

According to Jack, Beverly's "successful" suicide attempt was her, at least, second try. And on yet another occasion, she had checked herself into New York's Bellevue Hospital as a potential suicide.

Although little has appeared about Kenney in print since her death, in 1992 New York disc jockey Jonathan Schwartz somewhat made up for lost time with a fairly lengthy profile about her in GQ magazine. Which is the last place one might have expected to find such an article by the way. Almost at once the piece became, if only by default, a Rosetta Stone of sorts for the many thousands of Kenney fans remaining throughout the world (especially in Japan).

But it would appear as if Schwartz got at least one major observation about Beverly wrong. He seemed at pains to tie her suicide up into a nice neat little bundle by directing his readers at a flame she allegedly still carried for Greenwich Village hovering intellectual Milton Klonsky.

But Beverly's affair with Klonsky was long over when she killed herself. In fact, her close friend, actress Millie Perkins, once told me that she was asked out on a date by Klonsky after he'd broken up with Beverly. But Kenney seemed to register no marked emotion over the disclosure.

Instead, it would seem that Beverly Kenney was an undiagnosed manic depressive; with the motor that drove the depressive swing appearing to have been rock and roll coming along to pull the rug out from under her career at just the point she was establishing herself as a major jazz attraction. Indeed, one of the songs she sang on the Steve Allen Show was one she wrote entitled "I Hate Rock and Roll."

During the last few months of her life, Kenney was undergoing psychotherapy, being paid for by her boyfiend Jack, who told me:

"She really didn't have any money at that point because there were not a lot of club dates because rock and roll had taken over everything. It got to the point where we were drifting apart. She moved out to a residence and I kept in touch with her. Maybe four months later, it was Christmas time and I called her for a drink. We just weren't lovers anywhere. And that's the last I saw her. Maybe two weeks later I was working and a friend of mine who knew her and who knew I had been out with her said, 'What did Beverly do?' And I said, 'What do you mean, what did Beverly do?' And he said, 'I saw in the paper she killed herself.' And I was wiped out. He Said, 'Let me drive you home.' He drove me home to the Village. We stopped and there was an envelope in the mailbox saying, 'I really did love you. Please see that I'm cremated. Nothing to do with you. . .it's not your fault.'"

Curiously, in Japan, until very recently, all writing on Kenney (in liner notes, biographical entries, etc.) attributed her death to a hotel fire. It's a great Baroque worry of mine as to how the usually punctilious Japanese ever managed to get it so wrong.

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Anonymous said...

Just came upon your "postscript" about Beverly,and thanks for setting the record straight.I think your suposition about Schwartz is correct,because he knew the truth.You are also right about our friendship.Was facinated to "hear" BK as a "Girl band Singer" quite different but still a great sound.Thanks again.

Anonymous said...

Wow....I was just listening to sat radio and heard Schwartz plan BK ...not a word about her..first I've ever heard her, was fascinated with her voice....a few clicks later found your article and "Jack";s response...I was born May 28, 1960..would have loved to have met.