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Marjory Kennedy-Fraser (1857-1930)

Scottish singer, composer and music teacher who studied as an extra-academical student.

Marjory Kennedy Fraser

Early life and family

Marjory Kennedy was born in Perth to a well-known Scottish singer, David Kennedy and his second wife, Elizabeth Fraser. As a child she used to accompany her father on his tours in Scotland and abroad, playing the piano while he sang. Various of her siblings were also professional musicians, and three of them (Lizzie, Kate and James — soprano, contralto and baritone respectively) died in the fire that burnt down the Théâtre municipal of Nice, France, in 1881. Her youngest sister Jessie married the pianist and teacher Tobias Matthay. Their father David Kennedy died aged 61 in 1886 in Ontario, Canada, while on a tour.


In 1882 she began studying Gaelic music and language and to collect folk songs.  She enrolled as an extra-academical student of Music at the University of Edinburgh, and, inspired by a contemporary collection of Breton folk song she had acquired, she gathered a large number of Gaelic songs in the Highlands. She published them in several volumes as 'Songs of the Hebrides', which appeared in three volumes between 1909 and 1921 with a fourth volume, 'From the Hebrides', a few years later (not to mention many individual song sheets).

Her music collections were generally presented with piano accompaniments and she used her own English words translated into Gaelic by Kenneth MacLeod to make art music arrangements quite different from the original sources.


She developed a close friendship with the painter John Duncan, with whom she shared a deep interest in the Celtic Revival. They made a trip to Eriskay in 1905, and he painted her against the island's landscape. While there, Marjory also became aware that many of her beloved Gaelic folk songs were in danger of being lost forever as a result of population decline, and, being herself a singer, began a personal project to record and transcribe the music of the Hebrides.

In 1928 the University of Edinburgh awarded her the honorary degree of Doctor of Music, and in 1930 she presented to the Edinburgh University Library her archive of song, including her original wax cylinders of recordings, which have been re-recorded on tape for the Sound Archives of the School of Scottish Studies. Her papers include a manuscript volume of Gaelic songs, manuscripts and proofs of 'Songs of the Hebrides', papers relating to her libretto for Granvile Bantock’s opera 'The Seal Woman', proofs of 'Life of Song' (her autobiography published in London in 1929), newspaper cuttings, correspondence, lecture notes and miscellaneous papers.

Personal life

In 1887 Marjory married her mother's younger cousin, the mathematician Alexander Yule Fraser FRSE (1857–1890), whom she had first met in 1882 in Aberdeen. 

She died in 1930 and is buried in Iona.

Who were extra-academical students?

These students attended classes outwith the managed degree programmes. This was one way by which women, prior to being allowed to matricluate and graduate, gained access to University-level education. It also allowed individuals to take classes without signing up to a complete programme of study.

Related links

University Archives: Papers of Marjory Kennedy-Fraser

Library and University Collections: Extra-Academical Students

Reid School of Music