Musical condolences mark anniversary of JFK tragedy

President and Mrs Kennedy arrive at Dallas

Wiki Media Commons. President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy arrive at Love Field, Dallas, Texas.

A selection of condolence letters and never-before-heard musical compositions will be revealed at a special event at the University of Adelaide to commemorate the 60th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. 

Dear Mrs Kennedy: Music and Mourning on the Death of a President will be held at Elder Hall on Tuesday, 28 November. 

Professor Katie Barclay, Head of the Department of Historical and Classical Studies in the School of Humanities at the University of Adelaide is one of the event’s organisers. 

“The sixtieth anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy falls on 22 November,” she said. 

“The President’s violent death was of enormous political and social significance. It elicited an outpouring of grief from people of every class and every age.  

“The president’s widow, Jacqueline Kennedy, received over one and a half million condolence letters from all over the world, including Australia. Hundreds of these letters contained music and songs written spontaneously by mourners for whom composition was a way of processing their shock and sadness.   

“Most of this music has never been performed publicly.” 

Dear Mrs Kennedy: Music and Mourning on the Death of a President aims to change this by premiering music written for the US President’s widow. 

The evening will present readings from the condolence letters and the performance of a selection of compositions. It will explore the wider significance of the correspondence and the music as expressions of collective grieving and loss.  

“Grief is a particularly absorbing emotion to explore,” said Professor Barclay. 

“It takes different forms for different people at different times in history. But this is also true of many of our emotions.  

“Today, we live in a time of considerable uncertainty, and public outpourings of emotion of all kinds are all around us.  

“Understanding what motivates such mass expressions of emotion and why they take particular forms helps us better understand what it is to be human and how we can live better in a changing world.” 

Dear Mrs Kennedy: Music and Mourning on the Death of a President will be held on the opening evening of the biennial international conference of the Society for the History of Emotions, the theme of which is ‘Unsettling Certainties’. 

The conference brings together academics who are interested in how people understand, express, and manage their feelings.  

To learn more about this event, please visit this page on the University of Adelaide website.  


When Tuesday, 28 November 2023. 6:00pm. 

Where Elder Hall, University of Adelaide 

Free Event No registration is required, please arrive to Elder Hall for a 6:00pm start. General seating. 

Media contacts 

Professor Jennifer Clark, School of Humanities, the University of Adelaide. Phone: Media team. Email: 

Johnny von Einem, Media Coordinator, University of Adelaide. Mobile: +61 0430 476 300, Email:  

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