Mr. James Henry “Jimmy” McKissic was born March 16, 1940 in Little Rock, Ark. Jimmy departed this life on February 13, 2013.
Raised in Pine Bluff by his late parents, Rev. James E. McKissic and Rosa Daniels McKissic, he spent a lot of time in church. By age 3, he was playing church hymns by ear. His mother was his piano teacher until age 13. At that point, she decided he needed professional instructors. He soon developed the dream of someday playing at Carnegie Hall. As a young man Jimmy played for St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church and the Mt. Calvary Baptist, where his father pastored. He also played for other churches in Pine Bluff and the surrounding area.
He studied with Marjorie Kirby, Alan Johnson and Grace Wiley and earned a B.S. in Music Education form A.M.&N. College (UAPB); followed by additional study with Marjorie Petray of Berkeley, before receiving a Hertz Scholarship to further his piano and musical training in Geneva, Switzerland. He worked at the American Church in Paris, where he was in charge of young adults for two years.
Establishing residency in Cannes, France, Jimmy’s personality led him to become one of Europe’s most popular entertainers. He performed concerts all over the globe including Switzerland (Geneva, Lucerne, Davos), Franc (Paris, Biarritz, Nice, Cannes), Morocco, England, Kenya (Nairobi, Mombasa), Syria, Holland, Bangkok, Singapore and Brazil, among others. He performed in numerous cities and states in the USA including Arkansas, California, Mississippi, Texas and New York. During his lifetime, while spending 49 years of his life abroad Jimmy played for three U.S. presidents. He also performed 28 at Carnegie Hall in New York City.
A PBS documentary, “How Do You Get to Carnegie Hall,” (Sandy Northrop Productions) is Jimmy’s story, chronicling his odyssey from Pine Bluff to New York, with scores of stops and detours in between.
After that debut, Jimmy considered it a privilege to invite people to attend his concerts “without charge”. He would say, “To whom much is given, much is required”. He was know for his nontraditional Program Notes offering dedication to Mama, Daddy, his teacher, Delores Wiley, his sister, Jocelyn, and his Swiss friend, Geanie. He would even occasionally include letter to God. He often closed his classical concerts with hymns and/or popular songs as a reminder of his roots and his celebration of the universal nature of music. People from all over the world would come to hear him play from as far away as Australia or as close as Washington, D.C.
He leaves to cherish his memories: five brothers, Bobby (Brenda) Morrow of Milwaukee, Wis., Thirland (Helen) McKissic of Pine Bluff, Ark., Ray E. McKissic of Washington, D.C., Gene McKissic of Pine Bluff, Ark., Wm. Dwight (Vera) McKissic of Arlington, Texas; two sisters, Freda (Lee) McKissic Bush of Jackson, Miss., Waynetta (Dwight) McKissic Washinton of Woodbridge, Va., and one adopted sister, Machelle (Jeffrey) Kearney of Pine Bluff, Ark., and sister-in-law, Gloria McKissic of Pine Bluff, Ark.; Nieces, Nephews, a special friend, Ladelle Manion whom he met in California and a host of relatives and friends.. Also preceded in death were his two sisters, Jocelyn Byrd and Barbara McKissic.
Memorial services will be held at 1:00 a.m., Saturday, March 16, 2013 at Issac Hathaway Fine Arts Center, University of Ark. at Pine Bluff. In Lieu of flowers, Memorials may be made to James H. “Jimmy” McKissic Scholarship, UAPB Alumni Scholarship Endowment Fund, Office of Alumni Affairs, 1200 N. University/Mail Slot 4229, Pine Bluff, AR 71601. Services by Perry Funeral Home.