By Julia Corrigan
Helen Hubbert Kemp, class of 1941, a Westminster alumna, staff member, and well-known choral music legend passed away at the age of 97 on Aug. 23 in Jamison, Pa.
Kemp was born in Perkasie, Pa, on Easter Sunday in 1918 to Frieda and Edward Hubbert. Kemp grew up in a household full of music, which led her to realize her own musical talent. She then attended Westminster and fell in love with her lifelong partner, John S.C. Kemp. The Kemps lived in Oklahoma City from 1949-69 and established a “graded choir program” at the First Presbyterian Church, which involved over 700 choristers varying in age. Both Helen and John served two tenures on the Westminster faculty, teaching church music and voice respectively.
Kemp was known internationally for being highly skilled in the choral field, especially with children’s choirs. Throughout her life, Kemp received various awards for musical excellence. She also trained teachers and their students in the art of choral singing for more than seven decades.
The Kemps were founding members of the Choristers Guild, an international organization to provide material, music, and support for children’s choirs. She inspired not only teachers and singers, but also her own family. Her children and grandchildren have been successful in the musical realm, especially the world of church music. Her daughter, Julia Kemp, and her husband, Guy Rothfuss, are adjunct assistant professors of voice at Westminster.
“My daughter was simply starstruck when she was given the chance to participate in a workshop with Kemp,” said Lindsey Christiansen, professor of voice at Westminster. “She made every 9-year-old feel as though they were the finest musicians and the most important people in her life at that moment.”
Kemp’s teachings were influential to those in the choral field, according to Assistant Professor of sacred music at Westminster Tom Shelton.
“She was so forward thinking,” said Shelton. “Two days before she passed away, she was working on a promotional video on Facebook for the Kemp Church Music Symposium at Westminster Choir College.”
Shelton said that Kemp’s mantra was “body, mind, spirit, voice.” This phrase became known worldwide and inspired many.
“Kemp’s integrity and musical honesty were immediately clear to all with whom she worked,” according to Christiansen.
A memorial service will be held at Westminster’s Bristol Chapel on Sept. 19 at 1 p.m. The service will be live-streamed for those who are not able to attend and details will be on rider.edu/wcc.