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If you look at the listings of the major orchestras in America you will see two things in common; very few of them are programming major pieces by women composers, and almost none have a woman on the podium. Despite the abundance of wonderful compositions by women, the world of classical music has been, for centuries, a man’s world.

Nkeiru Okoye, composer

HV Digital Arts

Nkeiru Okoye is an American composer of African American and Nigerian ancestry. She learned to play piano at age 8 and began writing music at age 13. She attended the Preparatory Division of the Manhattan School of Music, and did her undergraduate work at Oberlin Conservatory.

Okoye’s music incorporates many different types of musical styles such as gospel, jazz, funk, African and western classical. She has written many works based on American history, including Invitation to a Die-In, commissioned in memory of Trayvon Martin, and Songs of Harriet Tubman, about the life of enslaved Africans in the American South. She considers herself an activist through the arts, by creating music that welcomes and affirms both traditional and new audiences.

Okoye has been the featured composer at programs for Dance Theater of Harlem, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Black Women’s Leadership Caucus. In 2021, she was in the inaugural cohort of William Grant Still Fellows for Medomak Conductor’s Institute, and the inaugural composer-in-residence for the Florence Price Festival at the University of the Incarnate Word. She is an Artistic Chair for American Opera Project’s prestigious Composers and the Voice program and a Board member of Composers Now.

Listen to Nkeiru Okoye’s I am Moses the Liberator from her Songs of Harriet Tubman.