Shawn Okpebholo

A widely sought-after and award-winning composer, Shawn E. Okpebholo has been described by Augusta Read Thomas as “…a beautiful artist …who has enormous grace in his music, and fantasy and color.” Okpebholo comfortably composes in various styles and genres, intentional in creating music that is diverse, dynamic, and genuine. His artistry has resulted in many prizes and honors, including First Place Winner of the 2020 American Prize in Composition (professional/wind band division) and Second Place Winner in the 2017 American Prize in Composition (professional/orchestral division), First Prize Winner in the Flute New Music Consortium Composition Competition, Sound of Late Composition Contest, Accent06 International Composition Competition, and the Inaugural Awardee of the Leslie Adams-Robert Owens Composition Award. 

Okpebholo maintains a dynamic career as a composer, including performances on five continents, over forty states, almost every major U.S. city, at some of the nation’s most prestigious performance spaces, including Carnegie Hall, The Kennedy Center, and the National Cathedral. He was awarded a two-year residency with the Chicago Opera Theater (2021-2023 seasons) and has had performances by many celebrated artists and ensembles, including The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra; Fifth House Ensemble; Ensemble Dal Niente’s Tara Lynn Ramsey and Kyle Flens; United States Army Field Band; vocalists J’Nai Bridges, Will Lilverman, Ryan McKinney, Robert Sims, and Tamera Wilson; pianists Paul Tuntland Sánchez, Mark Markham, Craig Terry, and Robert Ainsley; euphonium virtuoso Steven Mead, flutists Jennie Oh Brown and Caen-Thomason-Redus; among others. Okpebholo regularly receives commissions from noted soloists, universities, and organizations, including the International Tuba and Euphonium Association, the United States Air Force, Astral Artists, the Ohio Music Education Association, The Meir Rimon Commissioning Program of the International Horn Society, to name a few.  And his music has been featured on numerous festivals, concert series, and radio broadcasts, including the EarTaxi Contemporary Music Festival; Washington National Opera: Monuments of Hope series, Lyric Opera of Chicago recital series, Monte Music Festival (Goa, India); MusicX Contemporary Music Festival; The Uncommon Music Festival (Alaska); Front Wave New Music Festival; national conferences of the National Flute Association, Society of Composers, Inc., College Band Directors National Association, and Christian Fellowship of Art Music Composers; and Chicago’s WFMT 98.7 and Cincinnati’s WGUC 90.9. His compositions have been featured on six commercially released albums, including his first album solely devoted to his music, Steal Away, a collection of re-imagined Negro spirituals.

As a pedagogue, Okpebholo has given masterclasses at many academic institutions worldwide, including two universities in Nigeria, and has served on the faculty of summer music festivals, currently on the Fresh Ink Festival’s composition faculty. His compositional and research interests have been a gateway for ethnomusicological fieldwork in both East and West Africa: studying the music of the Esan people in southern Nigeria, the Akambe people in the Machakos region of Kenya, and South Sudanese refugees in northern Uganda. His field research has resulted in two chamber works, two symphonic works, transcriptions, and academic lectures. Grants from the Illinois Arts Council, Tangemen Sacred Music Center, Wheaton College, and Pew Research Grant (Union University) have supported his work. 

He earned his masters and doctoral degrees in composition from the College-Conservatory of Music (CCM) at the University of Cincinnati, where he also studied music theory. He completed a bachelor’s degree in composition and music history from Asbury College. He had additional studies in film scoring from New York University through the Buddy Baker Film Scoring Program. A significant part of his music education growing up was through The Salvation Army church, where he regularly received free music lessons. Inspired by that charity, Okpebholo is passionate about volunteering his musical talents to underserved communities. Currently, he is Professor of Music Composition and Theory at Wheaton College Conservatory of Music (IL), having also taught at Union University (TN), Northern Kentucky University, and CCM.

He lives in Wheaton, IL, a suburb of Chicago, with his wife, violist Dorthy, and his daughters, Eva and Corinne.