Kenneth Jacobson

NEW YORK CITY – Kenneth Jacobson, songwriter and activist, passed away peacefully on March 22, 2021, two days after his 91st birthday. The son of Gertrude and Henry Jacobson, he was born and raised in Waterville.As a child, he gravitated toward music naturally, picking out tunes on the piano that he heard on the radio, writing songs and skits that he and a younger sister performed in the family living room, with or without an audience. His talent developed over the years, and while still in high school, he played with Waterville’s Al Corey’s Big Band. During his first year at Colby College he attended the performance of a musical play and realized that this was what he wanted to do. During his time at Colby, he wrote the music for two such shows, “Lucky to Be Me” (1947) and “Bottoms Up” (1949). They were both performed at Colby and “Bottoms Up” went on tour. Kenny also served as President of Powder and Wig, Colby’s student run theatre club. Upon graduation, he was awarded the Condon Medal “established in 1920…to honor the graduating senior who exhibited the finest qualities of citizenship and made the most significant contribution to the development of college life at Colby.” Years later, a Kenneth Jacobson Music Room was established at Colby.After a short stint in the army where he was stationed in Orleans, France, and was responsible for the entertainment of the soldiers, he moved to New York City. Almost immediately, he met with success when his first recording, “Every Day” performed by Joni James, was released in 1954. It was his first gold record.In the years that followed, Kenny’s songs were recorded by Peggy Lee, 101 Strings, Frank Sinatra, Johnny Mathis, Dinah Washington, Ronnie Self, The Four Lads, Jimmy Brown, Theresa Brewer, Ella Fitzgerald, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Kidd and The Pirates, The McGuire Sisters, The Andrew Sisters, Lou Christie, Jackie Wilson, Shelley Fabares, Count Basie, Duane Eddy, Jim Reeves, Nat King Cole, Link Wray, Steve and Eydie Lawrence, The Partridge Family, and many others. He loved working with Ella Fitzgerald in particular, who he called his best and kindest collaborator. A number of his songs ranked high on the Billboard charts, which are weekly listings showing the popularity of songs.In 1965, Kenny was the composer of “Hot September” the musical version of “Picnic”. He also wrote the music for the musical comedy “Show Me Where the Good Times Are” based on Moliere’s “The Imaginary Invalid”. It was performed in 1970.Kenny was an active member of ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers). For a period of time, he taught musical theatre classes for adults at The New School in New York City. He was unstinting with his knowledge, warmth and generosity, and in his later years mentored many young songwriters. One of them remembered a bit of Kenny’s advice: “Don’t worry if it’s bad. We all write bad. Just write it until it’s good.”Equally as important to Kenny as his music was his involvement in the AIDS activist organization ACT UP during the late 1980s and 1990s. He was lauded as “a wonderful guy and a steady hand” of ACT Up’s Treatment and Data Committee. Kenny lived a rich, modest and creative life, full of music, love and beauty.
He was very close to his three sisters, was predeceased by his sister, Estelle, and is survived by his sisters, Phyllis and Ruthie (spouse, Herb), nephews, nieces and close friends.

He is deeply missed.

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