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Nkeiru Okoye

When the Caged Bird Sings

Nkeiru Okoye
Art by Judy Bowman. 

Thursday, February 8, 2024
5:30 pm


In-person Event

Michigan Theater
603 E Liberty St, Ann Arbor, MI 48104


Penny Stamps Speaker Series
Open to the public
Free of charge
Watch Video

Nkeiru Okoye is an American-born composer of African American and Nigerian ancestry. After studying composition, music theory, piano, conducting, and Africana Studies at Oberlin Conservatory, she pursued graduate studies at Rutgers University and became one of the leading African American women composers. An activist through the arts, Okoye creates a body of work that welcomes and affirms both traditional and new audiences.

Nkeiru Okoye’s new commission When the Caged Bird Sings premieres on Saturday, February 10, 2024 at 7:30 PM at UM’s Hill Auditorium, as a collaboration between UMS and the U‑M School of Music, Theatre & Dance. When the Caged Bird Sings fuses elements of oratorio, theater, and opera in a multi-movement musical ceremony, which Okoye describes as a gathering” that invokes the ritual of the concert experience as a ritual of community. Drawing inspiration from the Black church, it celebrates the spirit of rising above expectations and transforming adversity into triumph. Partly in tribute to the activist and poet laureate Maya Angelou, the work celebrates the transformative ability of Black women, commemorating those who have paved a path for future generations in many fields of human endeavor. 

To discuss this new work and her overarching career, Okoye will be interviewed for this series event by Terrance McKnight, a commentator, curator, writer, author, pianist and weekday evening host for WQXR, New York’s only all-classical music station.

Okoye has been hailed as gripping” and evocative” by The New York Times. Okoye won The American Prize in vocal chamber music for her song cycle, We Met At the Symphony. She is a 2021 Guggenheim Fellow and a 2021 – 23 Hermitage Artist Retreat Fellow. In 2020, Detroit Symphony Orchestra appointed her Composer-in-Residence for their Classical Roots Festival,” featuring her work, Black Bottom.

Okoye’s music has been commissioned, performed and presented by Philadelphia Orchestra, the Juilliard School, Baltimore Symphony, Opera North UK, Houston Grand Opera, the American Opera Project, Moscow Symphony, Tanglewood Music Festival, Virginia Symphony, Tulsa Opera, Royal Opera House (London, UK), and many others. Okoye believes in engaging communities through her music. She is a mentor composer for the National Association of Teachers of Singing Art Song Initiative and the American Opera Project, Composers and the Voice program. Her music is published exclusively through Theodore Presser. To learn more, visit www​.nkeiruokoye​.com.

Presented in partnership with the University Musical Society and the University of Michigan School of Music, Theater and Dance.

Series presenting partners: Detroit Public Television and PBS Books. Media partner: Michigan Radio.


Content Notice

In accordance with the University of Michigan’s Standard Practice Guidelines on Freedom of Speech and Artistic Expression, the Penny Stamps Speaker Series does not censor our speakers or their content. The content provided is intended for adult audiences and does not reflect the views of the University of Michigan or Detroit Public Television.