The Helen Kemp Award for Lifetime Achievement in Choral Music

In September of 2009, the Executive Board of the American Choral Directors Eastern Division voted to create a biennial award to be presented to an ACDA member at its conferences. The award honors an individual who through teaching, performing, and sharing, exhibits a lifelong passion and commitment to the choral art.

The recipient of the inaugural 2010 award was the person for whom it was named.

Helen Kemp

Early in her career, Helen Kemp, a lyric soprano, was well known for oratorio and recital performances. It was her love for the art of singing that propelled her into the field of children’s choirs, which she regarded as the seedbed for musical, artistic and personal growth of young choristers.

Helen Kemp trained children and their teachers in the art of choral singing for more than six decades. Known internationally as a specialist in the area of training young voices, she served as guest conductor and clinician in all 50 states as well as in countries around the world in both university and church settings. A hallmark of her work was her ability to empower dedicated volunteers to be successful choir directors, as well as to present techniques so solid and engaging that highly-trained professionals continued to learn from her.

She guided and shaped successful children’s choirs in churches, schools and communities in North America and beyond, as evidenced in a documentary video, A Helen Kemp Portrait (Choristers Guild). Her books and prepared instructional materials became standard resources, and church choir directors around the world use her text, Of Primary Importance, and its Volume II sequel. Her choral compositions for children are widely performed. She was also the subject of a doctoral dissertation by Christine Farrier entitled Body, Mind, Spirit, Voice: Helen Kemp and the Development of the Children’s Choir Movement (Univ. of N. Carolina, Greensboro, 1992).

Helen and her late husband John Kemp served as founding members and leaders of Choristers Guild, the international organization for children’s choirs. The Kemps served two tenures on the faculty of Westminster Choir College, Princeton, NJ, and held church positions in several states, including one at First Presbyterian Church, Oklahoma City, where they spent 20 years developing an acclaimed church music program. Upon her retirement from Westminster Choir College, Kemp was named Professor Emerita of Voice and Church Music, and was awarded honorary doctorates from Westminster Choir College and Shenandoah University. In 2003, she was honored with The Elaine Brown Award for Choral Excellence from the Pennsylvania ACDA and a lifetime membership award from the Presbyterian Association of Musicians.

The Conference Planning Committee for the 2024 Eastern Region Conference is currently accepting nominations for The Helen Kemp Lifetime Achievement Award to be presented at the Providence Conference.  The award will honor an individual who made a unique and extraordinary contribution to the field of choral music within the Eastern Region. 

  1. The nominee must have been involved in choral music making for at least 25 years and connected with the American Choral Directors Association.
  1. Nominees can be conductors/teachers of any type of choral music from children’s ensembles to professional choirs.
  1. Nominations will be solicited from the entire membership via the monthly ChoraLink, the website, and East’s Facebook page.
  1. Nominations should include a professional bio and a full statement about the person’s qualifications for the award. Supporting reference letters are welcome.
  1. The deadline for nominations will be November 1, 2023.
  1. The past president of the Eastern Region, Penelope Cruz, will collect the nominations and then send them out to the review committee consisting of the current president, president-elect, a past president, and one past recipient of the award. They will review the materials and make the final decision.
  1. The person will be invited to receive the award at the conference and a plaque will be presented. 

Email nominations to Penelope Cruz at