Grammy winning SF State professor dies
Lung cancer takes former anthropology professor Dr. Luis Kemnitzer
February 25, 2006 1:38 PM
Dr. Luis Kemnitzer, a retired SF State anthropology professor, radical activist and Grammy award-winner, died peacefully Feb. 17 after a long battle with lung cancer. He was 77.
Kemnitzer taught the first American Indian Studies class at SF State in 1969 and was a supporter of the occupation of Alcatraz Island.
He was also a founding member of the Needle Exchange Program - which began in the Tenderloin - aimed at HIV prevention. Illegal at the time, it now continues to save thousands of lives.
Kemnitzer was active in the Bay Area anarchist and peace-activist communities and participated in various non-violent protests. Before his death, he worked toward justice in East Timor.
He received a Grammy with other authors in 1998 for Best Album Notes for “Anthology of American Folk Music,” which won a Grammy for Best Historic Album that year.
Kemnitzer received his Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1968, and joined SF State as a professor of anthropology until his retirement in 1995.
Some of his former students remember him for sitting cross-legged style on his desk, smoking his cigarettes and for having a wide range of knowledge on various topics.
Kemnitzer was a brakeman on the Southern Pacific Railroad in the 1940s and continued to be a railroad aficionado. He liked various styles of 20th century railroad songs, traditional jazz and political tunes. His family and friends also called him an amateur chef and gifted storyteller.
Kemnitzer’s memorial will be held Feb. 26 at 2 p.m. at the Martin de Porres House in San Francisco, where he was a dedicated soup kitchen volunteer. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the de Porres House or to the War Resisters League.
A wake was held Feb. 18 in his honor at his home at 97 Miguel St. in San Francisco. He will be cremated Feb. 22 at Pacific Interment Service at 1094 Yerba Buena Ave. in Emeryville.
Kemnitzer is survived by his wife, Moher Downing of San Francisco, and his former wife, Brandi Apana of Honolulu; children David Kemnitzer of Oakland, Lucy Kemnitzer of Santa Cruz and hanai daughter Ch’asca Morse of Los Angeles; two stepchildren; six grandchildren; one great-grandchild; and four siblings. A close family friend, Rosemary Prem, took care of him during the final stages of his illness.
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