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Nkeiru Okoye

Creating music that engages communities & affects social change



Nkeiru Okoye [in KEAR roo   oh KOY yeh]  is an internationally recognized composer of opera, symphonic, choral, chamber, solo piano and vocal works. She is a 2021 Guggenheim Fellow in music composition and is perhaps best known for her opera, Harriet Tubman: When I Crossed that Line to Freedom; the orchestral work, Voices Shouting Out, composed as an artistic response to September 11th; and her suite, African Sketches, which is performed by pianists around the globe.

Dr. Okoye’s works defy categorization. They and 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. This results in an extraordinary musical experience that transports the listener to a specific emotion, event, or reckoning. One of her most recent symphonic works, Black Bottom, 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."


Dr. Okoye is an award winning writer of poetry, prose, essays, and lyrics. She pens many of her own libretti and writes lyrics, but also collaborates with noted librettists and writers around the world. She is in demand as a speaker and educator, particularly about community engagement and music as an agent of change.


Other expertise:

Community Engagement

Multicultural Programming


Music Consulting


Doll making

​​General information

Nationality: United States, African American

Identifiers: Female/She/Hers

Pronunciation:  in KEAR roo   oh KOY yeh

For Vocalists - IPA pronunciation:  [ŋkiEɹu]


Orchestral music


classical crossover

chamber music



Picks of the Week

February 28, 2022

Harlem Chamber Players performed a sneak premiew of my latest, We Met at the Symphony.

March 24, 2022

Minnesota Public Media / American Public Radio aired a podcast about my work, for their series, Rhapsody in Black. featuring recordings of  pianist William Champman Nyaho and Soprano Louise Toppin

00:00 / 05:00

Latest News

May 11, 2021

​Nkeiru Okoye, newly appointed Guggenheim Fellow in composition, begins opera based on true events of race bias and systemic inequities in the health care system that lead to detrimental diagnosing and care of patients.    Click here for press release



Nkeiru Okoye "Songs of Harriet Tubman" / Hudson Valley Philharmonic / Anne Lundy, conductor

Nkeiru Okoye "Songs of Harriet Tubman" / Hudson Valley Philharmonic / Anne Lundy, conductor

Kishna Fowler, Soprano Anne Lundy, Conductor Hudson Valley Philharmonic Saturday, Mary 5, 2022 1. My Name is Araminta 00:00 2. My Name is Harriet Now 05:09 3. I am Harriet Tubman, Free Woman 10:40 4. I am Moses, the Liberator 18:50 1. My name is Araminta But everybody calls me Minty. I lived with my Mother, my four brothers and four sisters Working for Master Brodess Mama works cleaning the house While Papa works chopping lumber. His master lets him visit us, He doesn’t live far away. and we’re all so very happy That our family gets to stay together As long as we keep working for the master We all can stay together Master Brodess sold my three sisters He said he needed the money He sold them on a chain-gang headed south We never did hear from them again Master Brodess says he’ll hire my time And I’ll work for another planter. There will be more money as he rents me out like so, And there won’t be need to sell me away. And I’m oh so very happy That my family gets to stay together As long as I keep working for the master And I am earning money Then we all can stay together We all can stay together They say I’m turning seven And they’re sending me to work for a new master I hope he and his missus are kind people as they Hire my time from Master Brodess I will cook and clean the house I will watch their little baby I’ll mind my mistress, and I’ll do just what I’m told So they won’t have me sold away And we’re all so very happy That our family gets to stay together. As long as I keep working for my master And he doesn’t lose more money And he finds no cause to sell me Then we all can stay together. 2. My Name is Harriet now. Minty was the name of my youth But that child died when they struck me, Leaving me unconscious Don’t call me Minty anymore! Don’t you call me Minty anymore! They dragged my Mama’s mother From Africa, changed her name. And then they whipped my mother whipped me just the same. Well Mama is a woman, I am a woman, too! You are Harriet now, God told me. Your toil has not been in vain. Each lash had meaning. Joy will follow your pain. You’ll be hero to your people. All shall remember your name. Don’t call me Minty anymore. Harriet is my name, now. Harriet, home ruler, guardian of the home. That’s who I became When I woke from my slumbering. God told me My Name is Harriet now 3. I am Harriet Tubman And I am a free woman, I Escaped My slavery from Maryland. I traveled here on foot through the winter, running from can’t to can. And I have hidden in holes, trekked through swamps, half starved, half crazed With patter-rollers and dogs that chased me thought I’d never make it. My, my, my Well, well, well, well, but then I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person. There was glory over everything. And the sun came like gold through the trees, and I felt like I was in heaven. I’d crossed the line, I was free! When I crossed that line, into freedom, I was finally free. When I crossed, that line to freedom, I was Finally free. When I crossed that line to freedom– Your kind William Still helped me, fed me, found me a job. I worked scrubbing houses clean as can be. And though my back ached, and my hands liked to bleed, it felt like I was in heaven But- Well, But here in Philadelphia I was a stranger in a strange land with none familiar here to welcome me. My home was after all, on the plantation with my family. What good is a brand new life, and how can I have freedom, without my family? And so, to this solemn resolution I came. If I was free then my family should be free, too. I would make a home for them here in the North. And the Lord helping me, I will bring them all here, and we’ll be together. And only then will I be free When I crossed that Line, into freedom, I was without, my family. I’ll keep crossing that line to freedom, Until we all are free. I’ll keep crossing that line to freedom, Until we all are free. 4. I am Moses, the Liberator. Moses, the liberator. You keep on going or die! When I took on this role of liberator, I said to myself “There’s one of two things I have a right to, One of these things: My liberty or my death.” If I cannot have one, I would have the other. For no man shall take me alive! I am Moses, stealer of slaves, Moses, stealer of slaves. I stole my mother, father cousins, brothers. We do not turn back. We’ve come this far and now you’re scared? Well, I’ll hold my revolver to the space between your eyes, Dogs yet baying in the midnight air, Patter-rollers footsteps closing in. What’s it gonna be, now? Dead negroes tell no tales You keep on going or die! Keep on going. If you’re tired, keep on going; and if you’re scared, keep on going. If you’re hungry, keep on going. If you want to taste freedom, keep on going. Set your mind to freedom and the promised land, We shall be free ©2006. Nkeiru Okoye. All rights reserved. Do not copy or print without permission.



Research resources

From coloring books, text books, anthologies, the images below are linked to sites where these resources can be purchased.