Pianist Patricia Prattis Jennings became the first African American woman ever to be awarded a full contract by a major American symphony orchestra breaking centuries of discrimination in the world of classical music. In 1966 she became the principal keyboardist for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra playing piano, harpsichord, organ and celesta. She gained national attention working with Arthur Fielder, Benny Goodman, and Andrew Previn. In 1971 Arthur Fielder hired her for a series of concerts with the World Symphony Orchestra. She performed Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" with legendary clarinetist Benny Goodman in 1977 in concerts at New York’s Carnegie Hall, Wolftrap, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles, and Concord Pavilion in California. Appearing on the 1977 premiere of the PBS series "Previn and the Pittsburgh Jennings performed four-hand Mozart sonatas with Andre Previn. She appeared as a soloist again on "Previn and the Pittsburgh” in 1978 performing the Mozart Concerto for Two Pianos with the Pittsburgh Symphony. Jennings gained critical acclaim for her performance of the Gershwin Concerto in F on the Pittsburgh Symphony's 1987 international tour appearing at festivals in Hong Kong, Osaka, Tokyo, and Edinburgh Scotland. Jennings is one of the duo pianists on Pittsburgh Symphony’s award winning recording of Saint Saens "Carnival of the Animals". She is a Steinway piano artist and was honored as a Distinguished Daughter of Pennsylvania.
Patricia Prattis Jennings was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1941. Her father P.L. Prattis, was the editor of the Pittsburgh Courier and a classical music fan. Her mother played classical piano. Jennings began studying piano at age six and violin at age eight. She studied violin for four years and became the concert mistress at Westinghouse High School under Carl McVickers direction. Jennings is honored on the Westinghouse High School Wall of Fame. As a teen she was a violinist in Pittsburgh All City Orchestra, the Pittsburgh Symphony Junior Program, and The Carnegie-Mellon Orchestra. Jennings made her solo piano debut with the Pittsburgh Symphony in 1956, at the age of fourteen, performing Mozart's "Coronation" Concerto under music director William Steinberg. She graduated from Carnegie Mellon University with a Bachelor of fine arts in 1962 and a Masters in 1963. At CMU she studied piano with Harry Franklin. After CMU she studied with Sidney Foster of Indiana University.
In addition to her performances with the Pittsburgh Symphony Jennings has also appeared as a soloist with the Baltimore, Houston, San Antonio, Pacific, Youngstown, Wheeling and Westmoreland symphony orchestras and the Erie Philharmonic. From 1988 to 1994 Jennings edited and published the newsletter Symphonium, which covered the accomplishments of African American symphony musicians in the United States. Jennings has also written for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Symphony magazine and other publications. Jennings retired from the Pittsburgh Symphony in 2006. She served on the board of the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony, the Pittsburgh Concert Society, and works with other charitable organizations.
Patricia Prattis Jennings
Pianist and First African American Woman Member of an American Symphony