10 Contemporary Black Composers You Should Know
In honor of Black History Month, we are celebrating black excellence by highlighting some of the very best black artists producing and creating work today. This week we are highlighting ten contemporary black composers you should know:
Johnathan Bailey Holland
Johnathan Bailey Holland originally hails from Flint, Michigan, but has been Boston-based since receiving his Ph.D. in music from Harvard University. Holland is the Chair of Composition, Theory, and History at Boston Conservatory at Berklee and has been commissioned both locally and nationally by the likes of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Cincinnati Symphony, Radius Ensemble and the National Endowment for the Arts. His NEA-funded commission “Forged Sanctuaries” was written to celebrate the National Park Service centennial, as well as the 50th anniversary of the founding of the NEA. @profjbh
Daniel Bernard Roumain
Daniel Bernard Roumain is a violinist, composer, and artist-entrepreneur. He is known for using every part of the violin in surprising ways to create whole new sounds. Also known as DBR, Roumain is a Haitian-American social activist who looks to shed light on areas of inequity in society and try to find a common ground for all kinds of people in his work. He frequently collaborates with poet Marc Bamuthi Joseph — their chamber opera We Shall Not Be Moved was called “The Best Classical Performance of 2017” by The New York Times. Roumain lives and works part-time in Boston, where he has composed pieces for the Boston Pops. His most famous collaborators include Philip Glass and Lady Gaga. @DBRmusic
Chanda Dancy is a multi-instrument artist and film score composer whose work has been featured in films at festivals, including Cannes, Tribeca, and Sundance. As a violinist and vocalist, she has performed all over the country. Dancy was selected for the Sundance Film Composer Lab in 2009 and has been seeking her own signature sound and perspective ever since. She is known for having rich and varied scores that combine instrumental performance with synthetic sounds to achieve a more modern undercurrent for the multimedia pieces she composes for. Dancy founded her own company Cyd Post, which provides music and sound artistry for movies and other multimedia platforms. @chandadancy
Pamela Z is an experimental composer, performer, and musician, who is known for her live sound manipulations mid-performance. She combines vocal techniques with video projection, movement, and spoken word and uses specialized software to loop and replay sounds she makes, creating her own living backtrack. While her solo and electronic performance are what she’s best known for, she also composes film scores for indie filmmakers and has had work commissioned across the nation by the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble, Kronos Quartet, and the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, to name a few. She can next be seen in Boston on May 18th, when she will perform a solo concert at the Boston Conservatory at Berklee as part of their New Music Gathering 2018. @pamelaz
Composing consistently since the 80’s, Jeffrey Mumford has been on the classical music scene for nearly four decades and is still putting out new work each year. Just last November, his piece …becoming clear premiered in Philadelphia a month before his 2002 (revised 2013) work the promise of the far horizon was performed at the Kennedy Center. His work has also found great success abroad, especially in Europe, having been performed in Vienna, The Hague, London, Paris, and Reykjavik. He’s currently working on a commission from the BBC Philharmonic to write a full orchestral piece for the 2018-19 season in Manchester, England. Mumford has been a Guggenheim fellow, a National Gallery of Art resident, and was awarded an “Academy Award in Music” from the American Academy of Arts & Letters. Mumford is one to keep an eye out for because if his track record indicates anything, there’s a whole lot more music where that came from.
Jessie Montgomery is a violinist and composer best known for her daring fulfillment of a commission to honor the 200th anniversary of “The Star-Spangled Banner”. Her piece Banner was called an “urgent, inventive” transformation by The New York Times in 2014. Since 1999, Montgomery has worked with The Sphinx Organization, which commissioned Banner and works to transform lives through the arts by supporting the accomplishments of young African-American and Latinx string musicians; she has been its composer-in-residence since 2012. A New York native, Montgomery was appointed the Composer-Educator of the Albany Symphony in 2015, where she leads youth education initiatives and performances of recent works. She’ll next be seen with the String Orchestra of Brooklyn on February 17. @jmontgomerymusc
Across the pond, British composer Daniel Kidane has always believed in the power of multiple and variant voices in music to unite all kinds of people. Born to a Russian mother and an Eritrean father, Kidane grew up in London where he began violin lessons at age eight. He was able to study composition as a teenager and then continued his studies as a college student in St. Petersburg. While he is still finishing his Ph.D. program, his work is already heavily sought out. He was featured on BBC Radio’s Composer of the Week, and his new piece Dream Song set to underscore parts of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, will be performed by the Black and Minority Ethnic Chineke! Orchestra on the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s burial. @dan_kidane
Henry Threadgill has made a career out of being “unconventional”. He began playing percussion and clarinet, before picking up the saxophone at 16 and falling in love with jazz. Growing up on blues and parade bands in the South Side of Chicago, his 1970’s jazz trio re-imagined ragtime music without the piano; his 80’s sextet help birth the “little big band” sound. In the 90’s, he began working with electric guitars, drums, and a full horn section, including two tubas, innovating the genre further. In 2016, Threadgill became one of only three jazz musicians ever to win the Pulitzer Prize. He is a part of the Kronos Quartet’s 50 for the Future commissioning project.
Damien Sneed contributes to classical, gospel, and jazz music as a conductor, composer, arranger, pianist, and arts educator — to say he is a jack of all trades is an understatement. The son of a preacher, born and raised in Georgia, Sneed began playing piano at age three and was the music director of the church choir at age eight. Since then, he has worked all over the world with legends like Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, and Diana Ross. He has served as music director for a slew of Grammy-winning gospel artists, and as well as for season four of Sunday Best, the gospel singing competition show on the Black Entertainment Network (BET). In 2015, Sneed was called on to music direct and conduct the Central Park Summer Stage production of The Wiz: A Celebration of Dance and Music. Sneed can next be seen in the area at Amherst College, where he will be giving a solo piano concert. @DamienSneed
Anthony R. Green
Anthony R. Green is a performer, composer, and social justice activist who has done his most intensive work in Boston as the associate artistic director and composer-in-residence for Castle of Our Skins, a concert series dedicated to celebrating black artistry through music. With Castle, Green has performed and given lectures on the work of black composers, including some of his own work. His compositions have been performed the world over and he has been a resident artist in New York, Nebraska, Virginia, the Netherlands, Scotland, and Sweden. Green is currently working at the Create to Escape Residency in Seaside, Florida, which will culminate in a performance of a new song cycle and a solo piano concert of pieces by black composers to celebrate Black History Month. @piargno84
And yet there are more contemporary black composers that can be added to this list, among them Michael Abels (whose score for Jordan Peele’s award-winning “Get Out” has received critical acclaim), Ahmed Al Abaca, Regina Harris Baiocchi, William Banfield, Courtney Bryan, Jay Coles, O’Neal Douglas, Gary Powell Nash, Nkeiru Okoye, Julius Williams, Carlton L. Winston and this respondent. There are so many contemporary black composers out there that the world has yet to discover.
Yes! So much talent! I was honored to premiere an aria of Regina Harris Baiocchi’ s in Chicago. I continue to seek out and learn about Composers of African descent. Thank you for sharing your gifts Kevin.
Dear Susan Warmington,
Thanks for remembering me! I have fond memories of us working together: your beautiful soprano voice will forever live in my music! Please let me know where you are and how you are faring. I am sure you are still gifting the world with more exciting music. Keep on keeping on, Sis! Peace and love, Regina Harris Baiocchi
Congratulations to mr. Anthony Greens. So proud of you! May God continue to bless you.
Thank you for posting this!
Thanks for sharing. We are truly talented beyond belief.
I can’t believe I only knew one of the composers on this list, and none of the composers that Kevin Scott mentions in his comment. There are so many people and so much musuc to get to know!
Look up Ahmed Alabaca! He is a super talented and young black composer! https://soundcloud.com/ahmed-alabaca
Tyshwan Sorey + Kamasi Washington, etc
And then there’s my little brother, John Christopher Wineglass: http://performingartsmontereybay.com/john-wineglass/
And there’s Renee Baker.