Americans for the Arts announced today that jazz trumpeter and classical composer Hannibal Lokumbe of Bastrop, Texas, has been awarded the 2020 Johnson Fellowship for Artists Transforming Communities, to which he brings his musical talents and humanist approach to engage individuals and communities toward building a more just and liberated society. The $65,000 award will support him in advancing his community-based work during the fellowship year. He will also engage with Americans for the Arts’ constituents during the fellowship year.
Lokumbe’s work, whether in concert halls, prisons, schools, or with community and faith institutions, offers a path forward that strives to transform trauma into self-determined healing and justice. His work has been commissioned and performed by symphonies and major orchestras across the country, such as his recent, three-year Composer-in-Residence position with the Music Alive program of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Two works were commissioned by the Philadelphia Orchestra. Under the leadership of music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin, One Land, One River, One People premiered in 2015. Healing Tones premiered in March of 2019 to rave review. Lokumbe composed this “hymn to the city of Philadelphia,” celebrating its life-givers and healers. The text and music reflect his immersion and unifying presence in the city’s community centers, schools, shelters, and prisons.
Lokumbe’s deep commitment to incarcerated individuals began in the 1970s and has guided a music and storytelling process in prisons that is rooted in vulnerability, openness, spiritualism, and forgiveness. He is the founder and director of the Music Liberation Orchestra, a program that teaches music, genealogy, and writing to incarcerated men around the country such as Orleans Parish Prison in New Orleans, Holmesburg Prison in Philadelphia, and the Bastrop County Jail in his own home community.
As a composer, Lokumbe has concentrated on relating the experiences of groups and individuals who have shown courage in the face of oppression, including enslaved Africans, Native Americans, Anne Frank, Rosa Parks, and Fannie Lou Hamer. Lokumbe has been celebrating and commemorating the African-American experience through music and words for more than four decades. His oratorio African Portraits — which demonstrated the African roots of orchestral instruments and brought blues, jazz, and gospel into the concert hall — premiered at Carnegie Hall with conductor Paul Lustig Dunkel and the American Composers Orchestra in 1990. Since its debut, African Portraits has been performed more than 100 times by orchestras across America, and was recorded by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra with then music director, Daniel Barenboim. Lokumbe is currently working on one of the most significant compositions of his career, The Jonah People: A Legacy of Struggle and Triumph, commissioned by the Nashville Symphony.
“Hannibal Lokumbe has had significant positive impact using music as a healing force for individuals and communities. He has exemplified a commitment to justice and healing through his work with the prison system, communities that have experienced trauma, and youth. I congratulate him for this well-deserved recognition and look forward to seeing his work throughout this year,” said Robert L. Lynch, president and CEO of Americans for the Arts.
To select the 2020 Fellow, a diverse group of 12 nominators from the music field, artist and arts service organizations, and local arts agencies nominated 12 music artists. Nominators were asked to look regionally and nationally, as well as in their own community. A separate, seven-person selection panel including outside professionals and Americans for the Arts staff and board members reviewed the pool of nominated artists and selected two finalists. Following finalists’ visits to Americans for the Arts and input from staff, the selection panel made the final choice.
The Johnson Fellowship celebrates the legacy and work of the late Robert Leroy “Yankee” Johnson, who served as the first executive director of the King County Arts Commission. An accomplished musician and writer in his private life, Yankee and his late wife, Laurel Lee Johnson, both believed that artists, when given the opportunity, can create real paths for change. The fellowship is supported by the generosity of the Laurel and Yankee Johnson Trust. More information on the artists and committees is available on the Johnson Fellowship page.
Americans for the Arts is the leading nonprofit organization for advancing the arts and arts education in America. With offices in Washington, D.C. and New York City, it has a record of 60 years of service. Americans for the Arts is dedicated to representing and serving local communities and creating opportunities for every American to participate in and appreciate all forms of the arts. Additional information is available at www.AmericansForTheArts.org.