College of Music considering renaming Kenton Hall after racism, sexual abuse allegations against its namesake

The Latin Jazz Band performs in the Union Syndicate on Sep 10, 2019. Students and alumni call for the university to change the name of jazz hall, Stan Kenton Hall, after information of sexual abuse became public. Image by Samuel Gomez

Article Originally Published by Samuel Gomez on North Texas Daily

The College of Music is considering changing the name of Kenton Hall following a petition which cites accusations that its namesake made racist remarks and sexually abused his daughter.

Kenton was a renowned jazz pianist and bandleader who lead successful orchestras and bands beginning in the 1940s. Before he died in 1979, Kenton donated his entire library of over 2,000 orchestral arrangements and manuscripts to the university, when it was still named North Texas State University. The university then named room MU282, a jazz rehearsal and recital hall, in his honor.

Kenton’s daughter, Leslie Kenton, published a memoir in 2010 called “Love Affair: A Memoir of a Forbidden Father-Daughter Union,” in which she revealed her father drunkenly sexually abused her when she was between 11 and 13.

“At that young age, I had no understanding of the emotional conflicts I was experiencing,” Leslie Kenton said in her memoir. “Experts on incest say that every girl who has been raped by her father makes excuses for his behavior… When it comes to me I don’t think this was the case.”

Alumna Lizzie Trumbore created the petition in June for university officials to change the name of the hall. It currently has over 2,300 signatures.

“I first remember hearing about Kenton’s abusive past in 2014, when a jazz professor nonchalantly brought up the fact that Kenton had repeatedly abused his daughter,” Trumbore said. “This professor basically made light of this saying, ‘Well, I guess that happened. Haha. Oh well,’ and continued to sing praises about Kenton’s music as we sat in Kenton Hall.”

College of Music Dean John Richmond said changing the name on Kenton Hall is under serious review by the university now.

“As concerns begin to mount about Stan Kenton, the faculty of the Jazz Studies Division asked to meet with me to discuss this petition, the concerns that gave impetus to it and the response the university should consider at this important time in our history,” Richmond said.

Political science sophomore Rebekkah Mack shared the petition on her Twitter and urged her followers to sign it.

“I think it’s ignorant of UNT to name it after a monster like Kenton,” Mack said. “There should have been some type of research into him. It’s a slap in the face to sexual assault victims.”

The university named the hall before Leslie Kenton published her memoir, but photography and merchandising senior Erica Bridges shares similar concerns to Mack’s.

“I believe by having that name of that building you are representing the man that did these horrendous and unspeakable things to people and his child,”  Bridges said. “You’re saying you’re OK with his decisions.”

In her petition, Trumbore also cited racist remarks from Kenton’s past from a 1953 article in Jet Magazine with the headline “Stan Kenton attacked for slur on negro jazz.” In the brief, Kenton is quoted saying, “The harmonic structure of Negro jazz was not enough to satisfy Europeans. Their ears are accustomed to more complex harmony and melody.”

When pianist Teddy Wilson defended Black musicians such as Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, Kenton responded, “I don’t know what to say about that, except that we’ve played music more advanced in harmonic and melodic content than Duke’s.”

As a response, the petition and its signers call for the university to rename the hall in honor of a Black jazz musician.

“Jazz is originally a Black American art form discovered and created around 1900 in New Orleans by Black Americans and Creole peoples,” jazz percussion professor Quincy Davis said. “Many of the Black Americans were descendants of former slaves.”

As university officials decide on the future of the jazz hall’s name, Trumbore said she wants the university to consider the importance of conserving students’ needs and the university’s reputation as a renowned jazz institution.

“This is not about dismissing Kenton’s legacy or music, or calling Kenton a monster,” Trumbore said. “This is about prioritizing students’ needs and preserving UNT’s legacy as a renowned jazz institution. After all, these young students are the future of jazz.”

Featured Image: The Latin Jazz Band performs in the Union Syndicate on Sep 10, 2019. Students and alumni call for the university to change the name of jazz hall, Stan Kenton Hall, after information of sexual abuse became public. Image by Samuel Gomez

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Source: North Texas Daily