Pianist and singer Jean Kittrell, who performed traditional jazz, swing and ragtime in St. Louis and around the world from the 1960s into the 2000s, died on Tuesday, August 14 in Edwardsville, IL
. She was 91 years old.
A native of Birmingham, AL, Kittrell began playing piano as a youth in church, and went on to earn a degree in music theory at Blue Mountain College in Mississippi.
She began her jazz career in the late 1950s accompanying her husband, trumpeter Ed Kittrell, in groups including the Chesapeake Bay Jass Band, based in Norfolk, VA, and the Chicago Stompers.
The Kittrells in the mid-1960s moved to Southern Illinois, living in Murphysboro and later in Edwardsville. Jean Kittrell began playing in St. Louis, working as a solo act in the late 1960s at the Old Levee House on the riverfront.
An educator as well as a musician, she went on to earn a PhD in 20th century British Literature at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale in 1973, and subsequently taught at SIU-Edwardsville for ten years.
In the early 1970s, she performed and recorded with the Mississippi Mudcats Jazz Band and the Boll Weevil Jass Band. From the mid-1970s on, Kittrell worked with three different groups- the Jazz Incredibles, the St. Louis Rivermen and the Old St. Louis Levee Band- performing locally in the St. Louis area, most notably on the Robert E. Lee riverboat, and traveling to traditional jazz festivals around the nation and in Europe and Asia.
Kittrell officially retired from performing in 2008
, but made occasional guest appearances with the Rivermen, now led by longtime tuba player Red Lehr, for a few years after that.
She was preceded in death by her husband Ed and daughter Rebecca. Survivors include a daughter, Camille, and son-in-law Tom Bryant. The family has requested that any memorials be made in the form of contributions to the scholarship fund established by Kittrell some years ago to benefit jazz students at SIU Edwardsville