November 29, 2022
Dr. Shawn Okpebholo ’03, the Jonathan Blanchard professor of composition and music theory at Wheaton College-Conservatory of Music (Ill.), recently received a Grammy nomination for Best Classical Vocal Solo Album for Lord, How Come Me Here? Okpebholo’s collaborators on the album included Will Liverman, Paul Sánchez, J’Nai Bridges, Leonardo Altino, and Caen Thomason-Redus. The 65th Annual Grammy Awards will take place on February 5, 2023, at the Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles, California.
“Motivated by the idea of community, our existence and purpose, and the hope of a better place, Lord, How Come Me Here? is an album of Negro spirituals and American folk hymns that I reimagined as contemporary art songs,” Okpebholo said. “In a way, this collection of songs began as a continuation of my previous set of reimagined spirituals, Steal Away (2014), though my artistic approach was different this time.”
After receiving his bachelor’s degree in music composition and music history from Asbury University (then Asbury College), Okpebholo received his master and doctoral degrees in composition from the University of Cincinnati, College-Conservatory of Music, where he also studied music theory. Okpebholo had additional studies in film scoring from New York University through the Buddy Baker Film Scoring Program.
In addition to teaching at Wheaton College, Okpebholo serves as 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 Mark Campbell, librettist for the Pulitzer Prize-winning opera, Silent Night. See more of Okpebholo’s work here: www.shawnokpebholo.com.
Reflecting on his formative experiences as an Asbury student in the music department, Okpebholo shares: “Asbury’s music faculty are world-class, and the department is small, which means that I received personalized instruction which was a huge blessing and advantage. In addition to James Curnow and Dr. Ronald Holz, very few professors have impacted me as much as Dr. Vicki Bell. She was influential in cultivating my love for teaching composition and theory. All of these professors encouraged me, prayed for me, and served as spiritual mentors and role models for me.”
Dr. Vicki Bell serves as professor of music theory and the Chorale director at Asbury University, joining the faculty in the fall of 1993. She remembers having Okpebholo in class.
“Shawn was a precocious young student with tons of energy and creativity,” Bell said. “He had an excitement and a thirst for knowledge that was unparalleled. I am not surprised about his Grammy nomination. I knew that Shawn was destined for greatness.”
Okpebholo offers words of encouragement and advice to current music students at Asbury University: “Develop and cultivate meaningful relationships and be kind. Much of my career has been shaped by friendships which create a stronger, deeper, and more fun process. Kindness goes a long way and will make your life full.”
The Asbury University Music Department offers a major in music (with emphases in composition and arranging, instrumental performance, pre-music therapy, vocal performance, and church music leadership), a major in music education (with emphases in general music education, instrumental music education, vocal/choral education, and combined instrumental/vocal education), and a minor in music. Learn more: https://www.asbury.edu/academics/departments/music/.