Shawn E. Okpebholo

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). Okpebholo's work as a composer and his music has been featured on PBS Newshour, and radio broadcasts all across the country, including NPR's All Things Considered, NPR's Morning Edition SiriusXM’s “Living American” series on Symphony Hall Channel, and Chicago's WFMT. 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. Solo artists include vocalists J'Nai Bridges, Will Liverman, Michael Michael Mayes, Ryan McKinney, Robert Sims, and Tamera Wilson; pianists Paul 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 UrbanArias (co-commissioned by Minnesota Opera, Colorado Opera, Dallas Opera, and Opera); Cincinnati Opera, Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, among others. 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.

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. Growing up, a significant part of his music education was through The Salvation Army church, where he regularly received free music lessons. Inspired by that charity, Okpebholo is passionate about offering his musical expertise 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’s also the Composer-in-Residence of the renowned Fifth House Ensemble and was awarded a residency with the Chicago Opera Theater (2021-2023 seasons), culminating with an opera commission with librettist Mark Campbell, librettist for the Pulitzer Prize-winning opera Silent Night. He lives in Wheaton, IL, a suburb of Chicago, with his wife, violist Dorthy, and his daughters, Eva and Corinne.