The First and Only Weekly Online Fanzine Devoted to the Life and Works of Edgar Rice Burroughs
~ The Nell Dismukes McWhorter Memorial Edgar Rice Burroughs
Collection at the University of Louisville Ekstrom Library ~
This 1982 photo was taken following the unveiling
ceremony of a portrait of Jessie Kneisel,
professor emerita of modern languages, on Cominsky Promenade.
Pictured with Kneisel, from left to right, are Karl Kneisel, George McWhorter,
Peter Berg (portrait artist), and former Eastman Director Robert Freeman.
A LASTING INFLUENCE
Alumnus George McWhorter's generosity keeps the spirit of his beloved teacher alive at Eastman
EASTMAN NOTES: DEVELOPMENT ~ Summer 1999
"Jessie Kneisel was the finest teacher I've ever had . . . and I've had the best in several disciplines," alumnus George T. McWhorter (BM '57) proudly states. "She encouraged me to specialize in German lieder singing. She had a way of drawing out your thoughts on any subject, making you think for yourself, resolve your own philosophy of life, and work with a purpose. This is probably the greatest influence a good teacher can have on a student."
Kneisel, who taught German and German diction at Eastman from 1936 until her retirement in 1976 (and who also served as adviser to women until 1945), clearly influenced McWhorter's life -- so much, in fact, that in 1982, while she was still living, he established an annual German lieder competition at the School in her name. He continues to fund the competition to honor her lifelong affinity for German lieder, and to give back some of the "life-molding gifts" she had given him and many other Eastman students.
"With Jessie, there was almost no division between student and teacher," recalled McWhorter. "We were friends and spent many golden hours in her home listening to German lieder, having insightful discussions, and topping it off with a splendid home-cooked meal. We kept in touch over the years . . . as she did with most of her students after they graduated, feeling that her encouragement would help them over some rough spots in their careers."
McWhorter himself has led as successful and distinguished career. After graduating from Eastman, he attended the University of Michigan and received his master's degree in voice. He sang professionally with the New York City Center Opera Company, but eventually had to retire from singing for two years because of troubles with his vocal chords. During that time, he went back to Michigan and received a second master's degree -- this time in library science.
By the time he graduated, his voice had returned, so he had to choose between pursuing an operatic career in New York or one in library science. His dilemma soon was resolved, however, when he was hired as curator of rare books at the University of Louisville and as a soloist with the Kentucky Opera Association, making his debut in Janacek's Jenufa. Performances continued with appearances on different university concert series in Louisville and throughout the Southern states.
Throughout his career, McWhorter has published five books; created a voice scholarship at Eastman in memory of the subject of one of his books, Jonah Kelley, a World War II infantryman who was killed in action and posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor; and established the world's largest collection of writings by Edgar Rice Burroughs, housed at the Ekstrom Library of the University of Louisville. He did this in memory of his mother, who taught him how to read using books written by the author of the Tarzan series. Now the full-time curator of this collection and editor of The Burroughs Bulletin, McWhorter has been featured in two documentaries produced by cable television networks A&E (Arts & Entertainment) and AMC (American Movie Classics). For the past 27 years, he also has been soloist at Louisville's First Church of Christ, Scientist.
Today -- 17 years after the first Jessie Kneisel Competition in German Lieder -- McWhorter's tribute to his beloved teacher, who died in 1992 at age 88, has become one of the most prestigious vocal competitions at Eastman. Each spring, students compete for prizes in both voice and piano accompanying, and the opportunity to perform in the Jessie Kneisel Memorial Concert. McWhorter makes a special point to return to Rochester to serve as one of the competition judges.
"I'm always impressed by the level of stunned training and talent," he said. "I'm also most grateful to Eastman for the training I received there and for the extraordinary personalities, Jessie in particular, that have influenced my life.
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