Northwestern alumna and soprano vocalist in Ellington orchestra Kay Wimp dies

Paulina Firozi

Northwestern alum and soprano vocalist in Ellington orchestra dies

Kathryn “Kay” Wimp (Bienen ‘42), known for her soprano vocals and six years of work with Duke Ellington, died at her home in Apopka, Fla., last month at age 92, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

Born Kathryn McDonald, Wimp was an Evanston native, graduating from Evanston Township High School and later attending Northwestern. She received both a bachelor’s degree from the School of Music, now known as Bienen, in 1942 and a master’s degree in music in 1943. After graduating from NU, Wimp auditioned for Ellington’s jazz orchestra on a dare from her friend, she said in an interview with Northwestern Magazine in 2011. She had revered Ellington’s musical style before joining his band.

Wimp was one of only six black students enrolled in the School of Music at the time. During Wimp’s time at NU, black students were prohibited from living on campus, according to the interview with Northwestern Magazine.

“We used to drool over Willard Hall, which was right across from the music building,” Wimp said in the interview.

Wimp broke though stereotypes and social constructs by singing an interracial duet with a white male in the 1942 Waa-Mu show.

The Waa-Mu show’s current co-outreach chair, Jake Perlman, said Waa-Mu places importance on its traditions, which date back more than 80 years, and the values which are upheld by alumni, according to the Northwestern Magazine article.

“Waa-Mu has changing traditions, and we’re currently in a transition phase from what Waa-Mu used to be and what it is now,” the Communication junior said. “(Wimp) really broke traditions in her time and that’s what Waa-Mu is all about.”

Paulina Firozi