Today marks the 15th anniversary of the release of Kelly Hall-Tompkins’ album In My Own Voice. To celebrate the occasion, FF2 looks back at Kelly’s extraordinary career, from her achievements as a world-renowned violinist to her work as a social justice advocate.
Born in Greenville, South Carolina, Kelly began learning the violin at nine years old. As Kelly’s discipline and talent progressed, she enrolled in the Fine Arts Center in Greenville, a school which allowed Kelly to specialize in her interest. After high school, Kelly attended Rochester’s Eastman School of Music before earning her graduate degree from the Manhattan School of Music. Kelly not only found her home at the Manhattan School of Music, but in New York City, where she has been living since.
Kelly’s many successes are as varied and impressive as the woman who brought them about. Kelly has performed as a co-soloist in Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall. She has also performed in concert halls across the world, including performances in over seven nations. For thirteen seasons, Kelly was part of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra’s first violin section.
Kelly’s talent has also taken her to the Broadway stage. In the Tony-nominated 2015 revival of Fiddler on the Roof, Kelly performed the violin accompaniment for the titular role. As Jesse Kovarsky impressively danced as the Fiddler high above the stage, Kelly’s violin sounded from the orchestra below. Together, they created the legendary role, forging history and folk into one moving symbol.
After her work in Fiddler on the Roof, Kelly released her CD, “The Fiddler: Expanding Tradition”. The CD features twelve tracks in which she repeats and broadens beloved Fiddler favorites. Indeed, when attending one of Kelly’s live concerts in 2021, FF2 contributor Amelie Lasker got to experience some of these songs live. When writing about the concert, Amelie said of Kelly, “Hall-Tompkins radiates creative energy, always teaching, always ‘expanding’ the traditions she encounters.” The songs from “The Fiddler: Expanding Tradition” were featured in the 2019 documentary deep-dive into Fiddler on the Roof, Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles. This is the same documentary in which FF2’s own editor-in-chief, Jan Lisa Huttner, features heavily!
Kelly’s contributions do not stay within the confines of the concert hall. A social justice advocate, Kelly has made it her mission to improve the lives of those within her community.
Kelly’s contributions do not stay within the confines of the concert hall. A social justice advocate, Kelly has also made it her mission in life to improve the lives of those within her community through the gift of music. Kelly is the founder of Music Kitchen–Food for the Soul. This project offers live classical music performances in shelters to homeless New Yorkers. These over one hundred performances have taken place both throughout Kelly’s own community, and even as far away as Paris.
In honor of the fifteenth anniversary of Music Kitchen–Food for the Soul, Music Kitchen began working on a new musical project in 2019. The album “Forgotten Voices” comprises sixteen songs composed from feedback of Music Kitchen guests throughout the years. A project made possible by the entire Music Kitchen team, “Forgotten Voices” premiered at Carnegie Hall in 2022.
Kelly works on the faculty of the Manhattan School of Music, where she received an honorary doctorate in 2016. She is also currently the concertmaster of the Gateways music festival. In 2020, Kelly was chosen to take part in WQXR’s artist propulsion lab. This grant seeks to promote the careers of talented New York City musicians. Kelly is a winner of the Naumburg International Violin Competition Prize, a Sphinx Medal of Excellence, and a Concert Artists Guild Career Grant. For her talent and achievements, Kelly herself has had the honor of being featured in the Smithsonian Museum for African-American history.
It would be a lie to say that Kelly’s achievements go “further” than music. There is no further than music, which Kelly exemplifies in her humanitarian work. She blends the beauty and necessity of music into her community outreach, and makes the world a better place for it. Kelly’s violin, whether retelling a much-loved Broadway story or performing century-old Debussy, connects its listeners. It bestows humanity.
© Reese Alexander (10/15/23) — Special for FF2 Media
LEARN MORE/DO MORE
Read Amelie Lasker’s review of Kelly’s 10/26/21 concert at The Greene Space here.
Visit Kelly’s website here.
Visit Kelly’s Wikipedia page here.
Order The Fiddler: Expanding Tradition here.
CREDITS & PERMISSIONS
Featured Photo: Courtesy of Kelly Hall-Tompkins from her press kit.
Bottom Photo (10/26/21): Kelly Hall-Tompkins’ first public performance post-pandemic was at WNYC’s Greene Space in Soho (Manhattan) and FF2 was there!
Photo Credit: Jan Lisa Huttner for FF2 Media © FF2 Media. Authorized for responsible use as long as the link to this webpage is included in the credit.