News | 30 May 2022

Busker’s legacy acknowledged with plaque and exhibition

Kenny the Busker will be immortalised with a plaque installed in Courtenay Place and his controversial amplifier going on display in an exhibition at Wellington Museum’s The Attic this week.

John Adams aka Kenny the Busker surrounded by revellers on Courtenay Place
John Adams aka Kenny the Busker in Courtenay Place

During last year’s 10-year anniversary of the death of the busker John D'Estaing Adams aka Kenny, his amplifier was officially handed over by City Archives to the Wellington Museum to house the item that made the local identity a household name.

Kenny’s amplifier was confiscated numerous times following complaints from nearby residents, leading to an on-going stoush between the busker and Wellington City Council in the late 1990s.

As part of the anniversary, Councillor Fleur Fitzsimons wanted to recognise the colourful character with a plaque near the site he used to play.

“Many Wellingtonians will have memories of Kenny the Busker, he was a significant part of the city, adding to the diversity and vibrancy of the Courtenay Place area.

“His legacy will continue with this plaque installed on a bench outside the Reading Centre on Courtenay Place, and with his amplifier on display at the Wellington Museum, giving a whole new generation an appreciation of the man and the entertainer.”

Even without his amp he continued to engage Wellingtonians with his PR campaign to get it back, creating flyers and a petition which was given to then-Mayor Mark Blumsky.

Mr Blumsky, who now resides in Niue, says there were two sides to the debate.

"Not only did he wake up the inner-city residents, and motivate the public into mailing and calling the Mayoral Office, but he also woke up the world to the potential and the magic of Courtenay Place.

“Thank you Kenny for the memories!”

Born in Texas in 1946, the actor, singer and musician, moved to Wellington in 1992 to fulfil his commitment to missionary work, and combined his vocation with his love of music by performing in the city most evenings.

Wellington Mayor Andy Foster says it’s good Kenny’s amp has found a final resting place after being stashed under a desk at Council and, most recently, stored at the City Archives.

“Kenny was a divisive character in the city but most Wellingtonians over the age of 40 will have some sort of a memory of him.

“I knew Kenny well and talked with him frequently. I even had calls from his family in the USA.

“You can debate the noise issues, you can question his musical prowess, but one thing is clear, Kenny had charm and charisma and became an icon in his adopted city of Wellington.

“He was an entertainer. He was sadly missed when he left us too early. We’re pleased to be bringing people together to celebrate that combined experience.

“Aptly, a rendition of Kenny’s trademark song – The Gambler – will be performed at the Wellington Museum and all those present will be encouraged to join in. It will amp up the atmosphere and along with the plaque and the museum exhibit, there can hardly be a more fitting tribute to Kenny,” adds Mayor Foster.

John D'Estaing Adams aka Kenny died June 8, 2011, aged 64. Mr Blumsky, then-City Councillor Foster and a number of Council officers attended the funeral to pay tribute to the man and his memory.