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Press Releases

Composer Nkeiru Okoye Receives Guggenheim Fellowship for New Opera: A Truth Before Their Eyes

May 12, 2021 | By JEJ Artists

For immediate release.

New York, NY -- 

Composer Nkeiru Okoye is at it again - wielding the power of music and lyrics to elevate stories we need to know. And this time, Okoye has the backing of a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship. Known for her powerful opera setting of the historic Harriet Tubman story, she turns her creative forces to a modern story of love, the unexpected friendship between two African American women, and the painful truth of medical mistreatment due to race bias. 

Her new opera, A Truth Before Their Eyes, takes place in a small community where “Black Lives Matter” is proclaimed while residents disregard everyday race biases around them. Its plot presents events that occur more commonly than one would expect in today’s health care system. The two leads are African American female doctors. Hope is a neuropsychiatrist, and Ngozi is a painter and university professor with a doctorate in Black studies. Hope is treated derisively by patients and colleagues at the hospital where she works.  When Ngozi arrives at the ER, unable to speak and suffering with debilitating headaches, well-intended doctors, immune to their own race bias, misdiagnose her life-threatening condition as psychosis. They lock her in the mental health ward where she is eventually found by Hope. They bond immediately, forming a lasting friendship that impacts both of their lives. 

A racially diverse cast of supporting characters moves the story forward: Thaddeus, an African American architect in a relationship with Ngozi; Decklyn, a White hospital administrator married to Hope; Dr. Avery, a White psychiatrist who doesn’t understand why Black Lives should Matter any more or less than anyone else’s; Murphy, Avery's sycophant protégé; and Ms. Brooke, a White social worker who is convinced she is an expert on Black people. Although they are not supremacists or bigots, the assailants in this story are professionals who permanently change the lives of both African American women through weapons of race bias, micro-aggressions, and indifference. Okoye aims to lead listeners to meaningful change through empathy with the protagonist but, more importantly, shock in recognizing elements of themselves in the supporting characters and storylines. 

Okoye's works are known for infusing a wide range of musical styles and influences that evoke all the senses and palpably conjure context for time and place. What results is an extraordinary musical experience that transports the listener to a specific emotion, event, or reckoning. One of her most recent commissions, Black Bottom, for the Detroit Symphony demonstrates this signature style, and The New York Times named it "one of the most engrossing musical portraits of Black history in the available repertoire."

With the endorsement of the Guggenheim and other accolades, Okoye has a steady stream of commission inquiries as well as performance requests for her existing works. When asked if she only composes music about Black people, she responds, "Because much of my work is commissioned, the general subject area is often predetermined by those commissioning it. Besides African American history and culture, I also enjoy writing works inspired by classic literature, romance and much more. Two of my more recent theatrical works, both comedies, are ‘600 Square Feet,’ which is about young love, and another, ‘We’ve Got Our Eye on You,’ is about the Ancient Greeks and the myth of Perseus.” On mixing styles, she adds, "It’s surprising to see how well Schoenberg and funk can sit side by side at the symphony." It's clear that Dr. Okoye has many more imaginative musical stories to tell.




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