Obituary: Millard H. (Mel) Kinney, professor emeritus

Millard Kinney

Millard H. (Mel) Kinney, professor emeritus of music, died March 9, 2016. He was 87.

Mr. Kinney was born in Ontario, Oregon, on February 10, 1929. He taught at NAU from 1955 to 1983.

Known for his dedication to his students and music, Mr. Kinney, also known as Mel, conducted the Shrine of the Ages Choir, Madrigal Singers, University Singers, Oratorio Society and the vocal jazz ensemble, “Splinters.” He also taught piano, voice, conducting, arranging and music education courses.

Mr. Kinney developed first-rate choirs of all types. His “Splinters” did several USO tours abroad. Shrine, under Mr. Kinney’s direction, toured Europe performing in the prestigious Vienna Invitational Symposium. Shrine and the “Splinters” also participated in two USO tours for the U.S. State Department entertaining our troops in Iceland, Greenland, Newfoundland and later in Japan, Korea, the Philippines and Taiwan.

The crowning choral music work of Mr. Kinney’s career was the NAU Shrine of the Ages Choir. When he became the conductor, the choir was still part of the NBC broadcast of the Easter sunrise at Grand Canyon National Park that began in 1939. The choir built a reputation as a superb collegiate choir—one that thrives today under its current conductor Edith A. Copley, director of choral studies.

“Mel demanded excellence in rehearsal and performance. He was inspirational and full of energy,” Copley said. “His students loved him for his knowledge, his wonderful sense of humor and his great big heart. He will be missed and always remembered.”

Mr. Kinney won numerous honors:  he was awarded the NAU Faculty and Students’ Recognition of Service Award in 1980; the Arizona American Choral Directors Association honored him in 1985; NAU alumni created the Mel Kinney Scholarship—an endowed fund with the NAU Foundation that awards money annually to promising NAU choral music education students—in 1990; he was inducted into the Arizona Music Educators Association Hall of Fame in 2005; and Copley honored Mel by commissioning a new choral piece for him for the 40th anniversary of the Holiday Dinner in 2014.

Many NAU traditions were started by Mr. Kinney, including the NAU Holiday Dinner and the High School Choral Festival in February, now called the Jazz/Madrigal Festival. He was the founding director of the Oratorio Chorus which is now the Master Chorale of Flagstaff.

“Mel was pure inspiration to students, alumni and audiences who remained devoted to him for decades,” said Todd Sullivan, director of the NAU School of Music.

Following his retirement, Mr. Kinney served for 10 years as the Minister of Music at the Church of the Beatitudes in Phoenix, Arizona. Most recently, he was the Director of Music at the Sun Lakes United Methodist Church in Sun Lakes, Arizona.

A memorial service and a celebration of life will be held at 3 p.m. Saturday, April 16, in the sanctuary at the Sun Lakes United Methodist Church at 9248 E. Riggs Road in Sun Lakes, Arizona. NAU’s Shrine of the Ages Choir, under the direction of Edith Copley, will perform at the memorial.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Mel Kinney Scholarship Fund (#1137), NAU Foundation, PO Box 4094, Flagstaff, AZ 86011-4094, or online at