Shawn Okpebholo

photo: Greg Halvorsen Scheck

Shawn E. Okpebholo is a critically-acclaimed and award-winning composer whose music has been described as “devastatingly beautiful” and “fresh and new and fearless” (The Washington Post), “affecting” (The New York Times), “searing” (The Chicago Tribune), “staggering” (The New Yorker), “lyrical, complex, singular” (The Guardian), and “powerful” (BBC Music Magazine). 

Some honors include The Academy of Arts and Letters Walter Hinrichsen Award, First Place Winner of the 2020 American Prize in Composition (wind band division), Second Place Winner of the 2017 American Prize in Composition (orchestral division), First Prize Winner of the Flute New Music Consortium Composition Competition, and the Inaugural Awardee of the Leslie Adams-Robert Owens Composition Award. Granting agencies, including the National Endowment of the Arts and the Illinois Arts Council, have supported Okpebholo’s work. He has received commissions from many renowned arts organizations, opera companies, soloists, chamber groups, and large ensembles — artists who have performed his works at some of the nation’s most prestigious performance spaces, including Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center. Currently, Okpebholo is in residence at the Chicago Opera Theater as their Vanguard Opera Composer and the Fifth House Ensemble as their Composer-in-Residence, and has held residencies at many universities across the United States and two in Nigeria. PBS’s NewsHour and radio stations all across the country — including NPR’s Morning Edition, SiriusXM’s “Living American” series on Symphony Hall, and Chicago’s WFMT — have featured his music. He earned his master’s and doctoral degrees in composition from the University of Cincinnati, College-Conservatory of Music, where he also studied music theory. 

Okpebholo is Professor of Composition at Wheaton College-Conservatory of Music and lives in Wheaton, IL with his wife, violist Dorthy, and daughters Eva and Corinne. For his complete bio and to experience and learn more about his music, visit


Compelling Portraits

Compelling Portraits

Release Date: September 8, 2023
Catalog Number: NV6552
21st Century
Vocal Music
COMPELLING PORTRAITS from lauded trombonist Kenneth Thompkins celebrates the music of contemporary Black composers. The album features five pieces, three of which are commissioned trombone chamber music works. These compositions take listeners on a journey from the contemplative to the triumphant, showcasing Thompkins’s range and sensitivity as a performer. The title track, composed by James Lee lll, is a musical ode to the paintings in Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series and in particular his painting Confrontation at the Bridge (Selma, Alabama). Drawing upon the works of multiple contemporary artists, COMPELLING PORTRAITS reflects the contribution of contemporary Black composers to a rich musical legacy.

Lord, How Come Me Here?

Release Date: February 11, 2022
Catalog Number: NV6408
21st Century
Folk Music
Vocal Music
On LORD, HOW COME ME HERE?, composer Shawn Okpebholo turns the mirror of history on today’s society with his own work and a reimagined collection of spirituals by enslaved Africans and American folk hymns that draws upon music from the past to critique contemporary racial injustices in the United States and around the globe. An ensemble of mezzo-soprano (J’Nai Bridges), baritone (Will Liverman), piano (Paul Sánchez), cello, and flute poignantly bring Okpebholo’s music to life, from hopeful anthems celebrating community to laments between a mother and her Creator and hymns celebrating faith and hope over hate and fear.