Most people know Gary Samuel Kennedy as “Dhati Majaliwa” which means “Free will, determination, and talented” in the Kiswahili language of Africa. The name was given to him by friend, mentor and activist Kalimu Endesha., The name aptly describes Dhati’s high-spirited personality, groundbreaking musical talents, and piercing commitment to African liberation. Although Dhati was a pillar in the St. Louis musical and social justice community, he gained national and even global notoriety as a Master drummer, activist, and stalwart advocate of African culture.
After several recent hospital stays, Dhati transitioned into ancestry due to leukemia complications on Friday November 11, 2022.
Gary (Dhati) was born on May 8, 1955 to Samuel and Frances Kennedy. His father Samuel Kennedy and twin brother, Terry Kennedy, were both Aldermen of St. Louis’ 18th ward. Along with his brother, Dhati attended Cole Elementary school and graduated from Vashon High School. While at Vashon, Dhati began a lifelong commitment to improve conditions for Black people. He joined the Black Student Union, the Free Angela Davis Support Committee, the Black Patriot Party, the St. Louis Kwanzaa Committee, Sudan Illustrators, which started at Mid-City Community Center, and manages Progressive Emporium & Education Center.
Dhati went on to study music and history at Hampton University in Virginia where he learned the South African Gumboot Dance as a member of the Hampton African Dance Troop. He brought the political dance back to St. Louis as a way to educate people about apartheid in South Africa and its connections to racial injustice in the US. Due to his efforts, multiple generations of Black youth have come to know and participate in the anti-apartheid struggle.
As he did with the South African Gumboot dance, Dhati had a signature ability of drawing from the rich cultural heritage of Africa and its diaspora. Though he began as a self-taught musician, learning percussion and piano as a youth without formal instruction, he later studied under several “master musicians” throughout the African world.” Dhati was taught by Billy “Hassan” Ingram; continued his studies with Mor Thiam, father of rapper Akon (whom Dhati would often baby sit); and eventually studied under Baile Ejiogba and Nana C.K Ganyo, who was the first Director of Ghana’s National Arts Council. Dhati often explained in lectures that his drumming was a political act to liberate the African drum tradition from European influence – since it was once outlawed by US slavery laws. He intentionally used the drum and music to inspire, educate, and politicize African culture.
Dhati also organized St. Louis’ first weekly open mic poetry and drumming sets under the name “Ngoma.” The iconic jam sessions were a mainstay of the local cultural scene in the 1990s. Visitors could count on seeing luminaries such as Eugene Redmond, Shirley LeFlore, Baba David of the Last Poets, and the Bosman twins. Up and coming artists such as Erykah Badu and Jazmine Sullivan (who was brought as a child) were also known to frequent Ngoma and learn from veteran artists.
espite his notoriety, Dhati never strayed from his enduring commitment as a freedom fighter. He was a frontline mentor to youth during the Michael Brown and George Floyd protests. He organized the annual commemoration of the East St. Louis Race Riot. Dhati is a descendant of one of the Black families who escaped the massacre by crossing into St. Louis by boat. He taught African drum and dance to youth at Progressive Emporium, Good Journey Development Foundation, Katherine Dunham Museum, Black Dance USA, and African Heritage Dancers and Drummers. At the time of his death Dhati worked at Better Family Life as Drum and Cultural Instructor. Dhati was an educator and historian; he has a selection of Black historical fact videos on You Tube under his name Dhati Kennedy.
Dhati Kennedy belongs to a large family that includes his daughter Laurice Pye (Jason) with her son Damon Clark; his son Kevin Liddell; his wife Linda Kennedy (deceased) with her son Terrell; his mate Coralicia Howard with her four children and eight grandchildren; his twin brother, St. Louis City Clerk Terry Kennedy, his older sister Dr. Joyce Kennedy, sister Katherine “Azima” Kennedy with her daughters Makini, Jamala, Nma, Candace; brother Ronald Kennedy (deceased) with his children Timothy, daughter Valencia, son Lil Ron (deceased), elder Uncle Floyd Johnson and a host of other relatives, friends, students and extended family who will miss his warm energy and loving heart.