Local musicians to perform in France as part of sister-city program with Cincinnati

MacKenzie-Thurley, who has worked with Hamilton’s Cunningham sisters, to be a jazz ambassador.

Kelly MacKenzie-Thurley, local singer and voice teacher, is part of a select group of area musicians invited to perform and give master classes in Nancy, France as part of a sister-city cultural exchange program with Cincinnati.

MacKenzie-Thurley left Hamilton on Friday and will serve as a jazz ambassador, along with pianist Phil DeGreg, for the 30th anniversary of the union between the cities. MacKenzie-Thurley and DeGreg will be accompanied by Laura Gentry, president of Jazz Alive and board member of the Cincinnati-Nancy France Sister City Association.

“I feel very humbled to be asked to be a jazz ambassador on behalf of our city. It’s an extraordinary opportunity to be able to go and present jazz history and perform for the people of our sister city,” MacKenzie-Thurley said.

MacKenzie-Thurley said she’s also excited to perform at the Nancy Pulsations Jazz Festival and represent Cincinnati globally.

“I love France. I’ve always loved France. It’s a beautiful place. In their schools, they don’t have a lot of jazz history, so this is a wonderful way to give them a taste of history, rather than seeing it on a DVD or reading about it in a book. Our hope is that we can involve them in our workshops. We want them to be playing with us and singing with us, so they can really get the flavor of jazz music,” MacKenzie-Thurley said.

The annual program allows musicians from Cincinnati to travel to France every other year. Alternately, musicians from Nancy visit the United States as part of the cultural exchange program. In 2019, the delegates from Cincinnati were jazz icons Kathy Wade and Rick VanMatre. Due to COVID-19, the delegates from Nancy were unable to travel to the U.S. last year.

MacKenzie-Thurley will be accompanied by her family on the two-week trip. The team will be giving master classes in jazz performance and history to elementary school students up through to conservatory level musicians and perform with the MJC Lillebon Big Band as part of their itinerary.

Additionally, the group will form a Sister Cities Jazz Ensemble with local professional and student musicians and perform at the Nancy Pulsations Jazz Festival, one of the premier festivals in Europe. The festival also features jazz luminaries including Wynton Marsalis and Jamie Cullum.

The Cincinnati-Nancy collaboration creates programs that have strengthened the relationships between the two cities through music, culture and community initiatives.

MacKenzie-Thurley is also the longtime teacher of The Cunningham Sisters, Macie & Marie Cunningham, who were recently selected to perform on NBC’s “The Voice.” The Cunningham Sisters, from Hamilton, will be a part of “Team Kelly” with Kelly Clarkson as part of the competition.

“I’m incredibly proud. I cried watching them because I was just bursting with pride. They work very hard,” MacKenzie-Thurley said. “They are a joy to be around. What you see on TV, and their open hearts and their genuine presentation, is what they’re like in real life. I see what they do every day. I see the hard work and the practice, and the meticulous detailed work that we do. I’m looking forward for the nation to see what they can do.”

MacKenzie-Thurley is a graduate of Hamilton High School, Northern Kentucky University and the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. She is on the music faculty of the NKY School of the Arts. She has performed in operas, musicals, cabarets, festivals and concerts throughout the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom, Italy, Czech Republic, Austria and Germany, including performances at Cincinnati’s Music Hall, Harlech Castle in North Wales and at the Sydney Opera House.

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