Joy Brown Wiener was painted by native Memphian Billy Price Carroll (formerly Billy
“Joy Brown Wiener ... the violinist with the perfect pitch. Since the moment she picked up the violin, it was clear that she was meant to play. Her career has taken her across the globe but Memphis is always home. Over the years, she’s used her celebrity status to tirelessly promote the arts and pass her love of music to budding violinists as a teacher, member of the Memphis Symphony Orchestra and traveling soloist.”
Taken from her tribute video, these words were a meager attempt to sum up the lasting contribution Joy has made to arts, locally, regionally and around the world. It was her significant gift and talent as a violinist, teacher and mentor that lead to her being awarded the 2012 Distinguished Achievement Award in the Creative and Performing Arts, awarded annually by the College of Communication and Fine Arts.
Joy’s connection to the University of Memphis began at an early age, as a student in what is today the Campus School. She began playing violin at age 6 when her mother, Ethel Brown, gave her a violin to perform with her sisters in a recital. It was soon evident that Joy was an exceptional talent with perfect pitch. She began studying under Joseph Haber and, nine months later, won first place in a state-wide competition in Tennessee.
Joy made her professional debut at the age of 10 as a soloist accompanied by an orchestra at the Goodwyn Institute in Memphis, and at age 15, was a soloist with the Charleston, South Carolina Symphony and the St. Louis Symphony. While still in high school at St. Mary’s Episcopal School, she became a full-time member of the St. Louis Symphony, the youngest member of the symphony in its 66-year history.
After two seasons with the St. Louis Symphony, she studied at Julliard School of Music in New York. While there, Joy performed at The Town Hall, Carnegie Hall and was a soloist with the New York Symphony.
In 1953, she joined the Memphis Symphony Orchestra, then Memphis Sinfonietta, as principal violinist. The first performance was held at the Goodwyn Institute featuring Vincent de Frank, conductor.
“She was a fantastic talent and remains so until this day,” said Jean de Frank, Vincent’s widow.
In the off season, she toured Europe with major success in London, Paris and Brussels. She gained international popularity, winning the favor of Queen Mother Elisabeth who invited Joy to a music competition and George Enescu, famous Romanian violinist and composer, who said, “Joy is one of the most talented violinists of the younger generation.”
After her second European tour, Joy returned to Memphis where she married Russel Wiener, agricultural entrepreneur. She continued as concertmaster with the Memphis Symphony and, in 1983, began performing regularly on the “Joy of Music,” an international TV series hosted by Diane Bish, organist, with viewership in the millions.
At the time of her retirement in May 1992, Joy had held the position of concertmaster with a symphony longer than any woman in the country.
“She held the title of concertmaster for about 40 years. I don’t know if anyone, especially a woman, can make that claim,” Jean said.
A long-time supporter of music education, Joy loves teaching and working with young people. Over the years, she has been involved in various programs to expose students in the Memphis City School system to strings and classical music. Joy and her husband fund the Artist Diploma in violin at the University of Memphis, a program for students ready for a violin career but seeking to master the artistry and craft of playing. She also provides private instruction to aspiring violinists, hoping to produce future members of the Memphis Symphony.
“Vincent was always after her to teach. He felt she had such a unique gift,” said Jean, recalling the confidence her husband had in Joy. “She has turned out such talented young people. She has been such a wonderful gift to young people. I go to as many of her student recitals as I can because I’m always blown away by them.”
The Distinguished Achievement Award in the Creative and Performing Arts was established in 1979 by the University of Memphis College of Communication and Fine Arts in memory of Elvis Presley. With a long and stellar list of honorees, it is given to artists associated with Memphis and the Mid-South in recognition of their outstanding career achievements.
To see Joy’s tribute video, go to memphis.edu/ccfa/DAA/daa-winners. php. For more information about the achievement award or for 2013 Distinguished Achievement Award ticket information, send an email to email@example.com or call 901-678-2350.