Alumna Kendall Isadore Shares Her Passion for Music as Member of The String Queens

The GSEHD alumna plays a unique blend of soulful and classical music that has earned her invitations to play Carnegie Hall, President Joe Biden’s inauguration and the Kennedy Center.

August 1, 2023

Kendall Isadore

As a founding member of The String Queens, alumna Kendall Isadore has performed at top music venues around the country.

Kendall Isadore, M.A. ’19, discovered her love for music when she was just 8 years old. Playing the violin quickly became an avenue of self-expression and a path to self-discovery for the young girl.

As an adult, she became a strong believer in music’s power to inspire and provide solace during life's challenges and began to use her talent to teach. She is now part of the trio The String Queens and has been invited to play at events and venues that include President Joe Biden’s inauguration, Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center.

Isadore grew up in Houston. Whenever she visited her grandmother’s house, she couldn’t resist getting on the piano to play simple tunes and sing along. Her parents spotted her early talent and decided to enroll her in formal piano lessons, nurturing her gift and allowing her passion for music to flourish.

When Isadore entered the third grade, her family moved to Pensacola, Florida and at her new school she heard an orchestra perform live for the first time. The captivating sound of the violin instantly mesmerized her.

“The violin immediately called out to me,” she said. “ Even though it's a stringed instrument, an inanimate instrument, it sounded like a human voice to me. And I never knew anybody in my family who played a string instrument or anyone in my community or my church. So, I just wanted to try something new.”

Determined to master a new instrument, Isadore spent hours practicing on the violin, not knowing it would forever change her life. Her early lessons focused on classical music but it didn’t take long for her to begin exploring other genres.

“Traditionally, you’re always taught classical,” Isadore said. “But because of my culture, I grew up going to school with Janet Jackson and Whitney Houston on the radio. I wanted to play the music I liked. So, from the beginning, I was interested in playing non-classical music.”

Isadore longed to play the kind of music she loved, fueling her desire to break the boundaries of traditional violin repertoire. One Christmas morning, she opened a gift from her godfather that inspired her to do just that. It was a CD by jazz violinist Regina Carter, and the sounds inspired Isadore to play music that felt and sounded authentic to her identity as a musician.

She began living a dual life where during her music lessons, she would play classical music, and once she got home, she would turn on her favorite radio station and play along to the songs she heard. 

While music was undoubtedly a big part of Isadore’s life, her parents encouraged her to pursue a career in another field.

“My parents fully supported my musical journey by getting me music lessons, attending concerts and recitals. But because they knew how brutal the music business can be, they encouraged me to pursue a career in science or medicine. Something that would ensure I had a job after college and for a long time after,” Isadore said.

Her father was a mechanical engineer, which inspired Isadore to pursue a career in science. She attended Howard University where she studied biology and chemistry as an undergraduate in 2006. 

But that didn’t interrupt Isadore’s love for playing the violin. As soon as she arrived in Washington, D.C., she scoured newspaper and Craigslist ads for gigs, hoping to perform her unique blend of contemporary and classical sounds.

“Now, a lot of people play contemporary jazz, pop and hip-hop music on stringed instruments,” Isadore said. “But at the time, that was very much a novelty. It was something that a lot of people weren't doing, and people weren't hiring for.”

Even with the challenges of juggling her studies with her passion for playing music, Isadore could not give up the violin. “It was a gift I couldn’t waste,” she said.

After graduating from Howard in 2011, Isadore discovered her second passion in life—teaching. She taught middle school science for several years. Then, in 2014, she served as the inaugural orchestra director of KIPP DC’s Northeast Academy. She created a strings program that encouraged children to strive for excellence and find the confidence to believe in themselves. 

“I wanted to do my part and be that guide for kids. I wanted to be the kind of teacher that I always wanted when I was a kid,” Isadore said. “That teacher that saw me, that teacher that went the extra mile. And that’s what I strived for as an educator and a musician.” 

Isadore said when she was younger, she had several experiences in her orchestra classes where she was overlooked and discouraged from playing the kind of music that encouraged her. As she got older, Isadore connected with music instructors who saw her passion and urged her to play the kind of music she loved. 

“I wanted to build on those great teachers’ examples and take my students even further than my teachers took me,” Isadore said. 

When she was hired as a vice principal at KIPP in 2016, Isadore decided to attend The George Washington University’s Graduate School of Education and Human Development, where she earned a Master of Arts degree in Education Policy and Administration. Isadore graduated from GW in 2019 and in 2023, she was named a recipient of the Outstanding Alumni Achievement Award by GSEHD. 

Isadore chose GW because she wanted to learn from talented professors and diverse students about how to impact education policy and reach more children. 

“I wanted to be in a classroom with people who have diverse teaching experiences so we could learn from each other,” Isadore said. “I also knew [that as a vice principal] I needed to have policy experience, learn more about law and improve as a technical writer. I just wanted to learn. And at GW, I could meet people and professors that would challenge me and give me different viewpoints so I could be more well-rounded.” 

As Isadore grew in her career as an educator, her career as a musician also flourished. She met Élise Sharp and Dawn Johnson, who were also educators who played a unique blend of contemporary music on string instruments. It was an incredible match and after playing together for the first time at a wedding in D.C., the trio formed The String Queens in 2017. 

“After that first gig, we knew this was something special,” Isadore said. 

Soon after forming The String Queens, the group posted their cover of Stevie Wonder's hit song, "Isn't She Lovely," on Instagram. The video was well-received and led to The String Queens getting an invitation to play a tribute to Stevie Wonder at Carnegie Hall.

"I'll never forget our first time playing at Carnegie Hall," Isadore said. "This was in 2017, a time when performing arts centers like Carnegie and the Kennedy Center decided to change up their programming after realizing they were not reaching a diverse audience. They started diversifying to attract more people. It was the beginning of a movement."

After their initial performance at Carnegie Hall, The String Queens were invited to play at the Kennedy Center and at President Biden's and Vice President Kamala Harris's inauguration.

"That was another significant highlight. It was during the pandemic, so obviously, it was a virtual performance. But it was just as exciting and inspiring," Isadore said. “For us, as Black women, being part of an event bringing in the first Black female vice president was amazing."

Their unique, soulful sound earned them invitations to tour the country, performing at national events. The String Queens also hosts workshops for children, uniting their love for music and education. 

“When we formed the String Queens, we also thought about who we were as educators, what we stand for as role models with our middle school students,” Isadore said.“We wanted to represent something in our babies to look to and be inspired by and be motivated by, so they could see us and say, ‘I can do that too’, to show them they have opportunities.” 

When Isadore reflects on her career, she feels grateful that she gets to pursue her passions every day. “All three of us, we just feel very blessed,” Isadore said.