Kenton Coe began his musical training at the Cadek Conservatory in Chattanooga and continued studies in Knoxville before attending Sewanee Academy. He attended Hobart College in upstate New York for two years before entering Yale University from which he graduated as a History of Music major. He studied composition at Yale with Paul Hindemith and Quincy Porter. He worked privately for three years in Paris with Nadia Boulanger both at the Paris Conservatory and the Fontainebleau School and received two French Government scholarships at her request.


Kenton Coe Biography

Sponsored by Aaron Copland, Kenton Coe received two fellowships from the MacDowell Colony where he began his first full-length opera, South, which was premiered in 1965 by the Opera of Marseilles under the direction of conductor Jean-Pierre Marty. A new production of South was given by the Paris Opera with an opening night Gala in the presence of President and Madame Georges Pompidou. A studio recording by the French Radio of this opera was given as a part of their American Bi-Centennial celebration. He has written a one-act comedy, Le Grand Siècle, on a text of Eugène Ionesco, which was premiered by the Opera of Nantes and later recorded for broadcast by the French Radio. Kenton Coe has sketched a second full-length opera, The White Devil, based on the Jacobean play by John Webster and is collaborating with Allen Cargile on a chamber opera based on James Agee's The Morning Watch. In 1989, the Knoxville Opera Company gave in both Knoxville and Nashville the highly successful world premiere performances of his third opera, Rachel, based on the tragic love story of Andrew and Rachel Jackson. The libretto was created by fellow-Tennessean and Emmy-Award-winning TV writer, Anne Howard Bailey.


Kenton Coe has written The River, a musical play about early Tennessee settlers, for the Chattanooga Boys Choir who toured the work extensively during the Bi-Centennial year and have continued to perform excerpts annually ever since. This collaboration led in 1995 to a second commission of Three Appalachian Carols. The American premiere of his Sonata for Piano was performed at the National Gallery of Art in Washington in 1977 by Kenneth Huber. An active member of the Episcopal Church, he has been commissioned to write numerous anthems as memorial celebrations and for various parishes. He wrote Celebration Hymn for the installation of William Jones, the 8th Bishop of Missouri, in St. Louis under the direction of Ronald Arnatt.


Kenton Coe composed the film scores for Universal's Birds in Peru, written and directed by Romain Gary for his wife Jean Seberg, and for all of the full-length documentary films by director Ross Spears: Agee, The Electric Valley, Long Shadows, To Render a Life, Tell About the South and Appalachia: A History of Mountains and People which was chosen as best film of 2010 by the American Library Association. Agee received an Academy Award nomination for best documentary and has had numerous international showings including a Kennedy Center premiere attended by President Jimmy Carter.


Celebrated organist Stephen Hamilton has commissioned from Kenton Coe several works including the Fantasy for Organ and VI Variations on Gaudeamus Igitur. Dr. Hamilton’s doctoral thesis was a study and analysis of the Fantasy and was published in the AGO Journal. The 2nd Fantasy for Organ was commissioned by Craig Campbell who has performed the work in London, Paris and extensively in the United States. Commissioned by the Festival du Comminges in southern France, the Concerto for Organ, Strings and Percussion was premiered there in 1980 with Hamilton as soloist and the Orchestre du Capitole de Toulouse under the direction of Jean-Pierre Marty. The double New York premiere took place in 1992 at the Church of the Holy Trinity and Trinity Church-Wall Street with Hamilton as soloist and the Manhattan School Orchestra under the direction of Glen Cortese. Dr. Hamilton gave the first performance of the Hymn-Tune Preludes at the 1981 Spoleto Festival in Charleston.


The Johnson City Symphony has commissioned and premiered the Scherzo for Clarinet, Brass and Strings in 1986; Elegy for soprano and chorus in 1982; Schumann Study, a concerto for oboe, in 1985; the orchestral version of Hymn to Music in 1991 and performed again in 2011; and Echoes of Old Hymn-Tunes in 1994.

Other commissions include The Legend of Candy's Creek for the Knoxville Ballet and the Knoxville Youth Symphony and Carols from the Appalachian Mountains for the Kingsport Symphony in 1987. Ischiana, an overture for orchestra, was commissioned by the Baton Rouge Symphony for their 40th anniversary season in 1989 and has subsequently been performed under the direction of conductor James Paul by several orchestras, including in 1995, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The City of London commissioned Purcellular, a suite for jazz trio and orchestra, for performances during the 1995 Purcell tercentenary; the Baton Rouge Symphony gave the American premiere in 1998.


The Carolina Concert Choir commissioned The Architects of Heaven in 2008, and has named Kenton Coe as their Composer in Residence. His A Quiet Alleluia has been adopted as their signature encore. The Civic Chorale of Johnson City premiered four of his series of Motets on Familiar Hymns in 2009. King College of Bristol commissioned The Athlete, an Easter parable on 3 poems by Craig McDonald, in 2002. In 2006 Milligan College commissioned Genesis, a choral work for organ, string orchestra and narrator.

As a part of the Continental Harmony celebration in 2000 sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts, the state of West Virginia commissioned The Unknown Region, based on texts by Walt Whitman, for three choirs and chamber ensemble. The premiere performances were given in Parkersburg and Charleston.


Named "Composer of the Year" by the Tennessee Music Teachers' Association, this organization commissioned the cantata Handwriting on the Wall for the 25th anniversary concert in Nashville in 1978. Among other professional and academic honors, he has been elected a National Patron of the music fraternity Delta Omicron, who commissioned Nightdances for flute and guitar for their international convention in 1989. Tusculum College awarded him their highest honor, The Samuel Doak Award. In 1985, the Lyndhurst Foundation awarded Kenton Coe the Lyndhurst Prize. In 1990, the state of Tennessee honored him in the Artist category with their biennial Governor's Award in the Arts. He received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from East Tennessee State University in 2007.


Kenton Coe now divides his time between his native Johnson City, Tennessee and Tuxedo, North Carolina.

KC, Johnson City, TN. 2006