Here are the 12 extraordinary music artists nominated by music professionals for the 2020 Johnson Fellowship.
Americans for the Arts applauds each of these artists for their significant contributions to making positive change in communities across the United States and to addressing issues facing communities, our country, and the planet, including: equitable neighborhood development; creative youth development and civic engagement; cultural equity, identity and preservation; transgender awareness; Native American youth suicide; spiritual ecology; and violence, racism and police practices.
Eddy Kwon, Cincinnati, OH
Eddy Kwon is a composer-performer, violinist/violist, and community-based teaching artist living in Cincinnati, Ohio, and was one of two finalists for the Americans for the Arts Johnson Fellowship for Artists Transforming Communities. As a composer-performer, Eddy’s recent commissions include VIOLENCE, a performance work for electro-acoustic ensemble that explores structural violence in America. His commitment to musical experimentation is equally matched with his commitment to community development through music. Eddy serves as Artistic Director of Price Hill Will, a non-profit comprehensive community development corporation serving the diverse neighborhood of Price Hill. As Artistic Director, Eddy leads Price Hill Will’s key arts programs: MYCincinnati, a tuition-free, daily youth orchestra program; the Price Hill Creative Community Festival that uses collaborative performing arts as a tool to build more creative and inclusive communities; the Creative Action Residency, a year-long artist residency with a goal of identifying, engaging with, and ultimately transforming oppressive systems through collaborative action. These programs are active at the intersection of creative youth development, community engagement, and equitable neighborhood development, and present a different model for how community development organizations can use the arts as a tool for advancing equity. Eddy identifies as non-binary and accepts all gender pronouns.
Courtney Bryan, New Orleans, LA
Composer and pianist Courtney Bryan works in multiple genres, both sacred and secular, including jazz and other experimental music, traditional gospel, spirituals, and hymns. Unifying her compositions—solo to orchestral works, choral music and sound installations—is a desire to “communicate the sounds of rebellion and healing.” Improvisation is central to her music and she collaborates with dancers, visual artists, writers, and actors. Bryan's compositions explore human emotions through sound. Bryan’s music is also interwoven with the present, particularly in its commitment to confronting contemporary social injustices and commemorating the victims of racist police brutality in the United States. In 2016, she was commissioned by The Dream Unfinished: An Activist Orchestra to write a piece about Sandra Bland, called Yet Unheard and collaborated with the poet Sharan Strange and the vocalist Helga Davis. She has been an artist in residence with the Jacksonville Symphony, where she was commissioned to write a piece for the city and engaged with youth in schools to collect sounds and capture the essence of Jacksonville.
Dom Flemons, Silver Spring, MD
American songster Dom Flemons’ music covers nearly 100 years of American folklore, ballads, and tunes. A multi-instrumentalist and music historian, Dom is considered an expert player on the banjo, fife, guitar, harmonica, percussion, quills, and rhythm bones. For the past decade, he has been instrumental in the development of community outreach programs and awareness surrounding the African/Caribbean roots of the banjo, early American songsters, and expanding the documentation of popular roots music. In 2018, Flemons released his critically acclaimed album "Dom Flemons Presents Black Cowboys" on Smithsonian Folkways, which explores the complex history of the African American pioneers who helped build the United States of America in the 19th and 20th centuries. He has chosen to share these true stories by arranging traditional tunes and writing original songs, reciting poetry and re-creating tintype photographs along with a 40-page booklet. He has performed at correctional facilities, Boys and Girls clubs, and senior citizen housing communities. Flemons is committed to empowering, motivating and mentoring the next generation of roots artists.
Venus Demars, Minneapolis, MN
Venus Demars is a musician and songwriter. For decades she has promoted and embodied transgender acceptance and human rights through performing and recording and audience engagement with her glam-metal band All the Pretty Horses. A 59-year-old Duluth native now living in Minneapolis, Venus came out as transgender at age 30. Feeling the oppression as a kid, she “wanted to create through my art that it could be cool to be trans; it could be empowering to be who you feel you are. That was the persona I tried to create.” She is committed to engaging with and building understanding about being transgender among young people and broader audiences. As a respected part of the Minneapolis cultural community, five years ago Venus was invited to be part of Bare Bones Halloween Extravanganza, a community-created pageant of larger-than-life puppetry, drama, dance, fire, song, and music that honors the circle of life. As musical director, she writes the musical score developed through community-based process and directs an entirely volunteer orchestra as part of the annual spectacle. She is currently writing a memoir to further share her experiences as a transgendered woman and artist.
Ashleigh Gordon, Boston MA
Ashleigh Gordon, violist, has performed throughout North America, Europe, and Hong Kong, ranging from chamber and orchestral music settings to off-Broadway and new music productions. In community, as Artistic and Executive Director of Castle of Our Skins (COOS), COOS’s goal is to foster cultural curiosity and the idea of celebration about the music of Black composers and to counter media stigma and historical negativity centered around Blackness and Black culture. Ashleigh develops public programming as a way to educate, through music, other artistic disciplines, spoken word, and history. Ashleigh has co-designed/led educational workshops for over 1,000 youths in the Greater Boston area primary schools and community centers. In recognition of her advocacy of social and cultural awareness, she has been featured in the June 2015 International Musician Magazine; and awarded the St. Botolph Emerging Artist and Charles Walton Diversity Advocate award from the American Federation of Musicians.
Tiokasin Ghosthorse, New York
Tiokasin Ghosthorse is a member of the Cheyenne River Lakota (Sioux) Nation of South Dakota and an educator, musician and international speaker on peace and the global issues facing Native people. He plays the traditional Lakota cedar wood flute and combines insightful "spoken word" with the transcendence of the cedar flute. When he performs on his Lakota flute, he conveys to audiences the important aspects of the culture and traditional creation stories within the music. Tiokasin is most concerned with Native youth suicide and targets his workshops to locales where suicide attempts are devastatingly high. In recent years, he has been working with Lakota children in the capacity of promoting cultural values and music appreciation through his educational workshops. He hosts and produces First Voices Radio, a live weekly radio program of music and issues that he founded in 1993 and is now syndicated on 70 public and community radio stations. Tiokasin is a guest faculty member at Yale University’s School of Divinity, Ecology and Forestry and a Spiritual Ecology Youth Fellowship faculty member working with young ecology professionals.
Shaw Pong Liu, Boston, MA
Violinist and composer Shaw Pong Liu engages diverse communities through multidisciplinary collaborations, creative music and social dialogue. Her project Code Listen, uses songwriting and performances to support healing and dialogue around violence, racism, and police practices, in collaboration with the Boston Police Department, teen artists, family members surviving homicide and local musicians. Her ongoing project Sing Home, in Boston’s Chinatown, collects and shares songs of the people of Boston's Chinatown and creates new musical compositions as a way to start conversations about immigration, neighborhood, and cultural and civic identity. Previous projects include A Bird a Day, exploring birdsong, sunrises and composition (resulting in a site-specific composition for 18 solo string players in three tiers of balconies) and Soldiers’ Tales Untold, a musical-narrative production mixing veterans’ stories, live music, and audience dialogue about war. Shaw Pong is a founding member of Play for Justice, a network of musicians and artists in Boston supporting social justice causes.
Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, New Orleans, LA
Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah is a trumpeter, composer, and producer. He is the progenitor of “Stretch Music,” a jazz-rooted, genre-blind musical form that attempts to “stretch” jazz’s rhythmic, melodic, and harmonic conventions to encompass as many other musical forms, languages and cultures as possible. In 2017, Christian released The Centennial Trilogy which speaks to issues that plague the collective human experience: slavery in America via the Prison Industrial Complex, xenophobia, immigration, climate change, gender inequality, fascism and the return of the demagogue. Christian is the grandson of legendary Big Chief, Donald Harrison Sr. and began “masking” with his grandfather in 1989. He is dedicated to a number of causes that positively impact communities. He has worked with Guardians Institute in New Orleans’ 9th Ward, dedicated to reading and fiscal literacy and cultural retention, and committed to the participation of community elders and artists in uplifting and supporting youths in underserved areas of New Orleans.
Luke Stewart, Washington DC
Luke Stewart is a multi-instrumentalist, radio producer, writer, and event organizer. His creative practice and collaborative choices intentionally elevate voices that need to be heard, often in spaces where they otherwise wouldn't. He connects musical communities that voice very different traditions and create spaces for musical dialogue and for building community power. This has been especially true in terms of Washington DC's struggles with gentrification and displacement, both for artists and for DC's historic African American majority, as DC has lost many of its historic jazz spaces. Stewart has been an activist to ensure spaces where jazz and experimental musicians can converge. He is cofounder of the nonprofit CapitalBop, Inc. dedicated to preserving, promoting and presenting jazz in Washington, D.C. and “building community around this music, because it’s important to the city’s historic identity, but also ever-changing and contemporary [identity].” He is Production Coordinator for WPFW 89.3FM, as well as the host of THE VIBES edition of Overnight Jazz, weekly eclectic jazz program. There, he has worked with some seminal figures in music and social justice such as Chuck Brown, Yusef Lateef, and Amiri Baraka.
Rev. John Wilkins, Como, MS
Reverend John Wilkins is a gospel blues guitarist and vocalist and the son of the influential blues musician Reverend Robert Wilkins. Rev. Wilkins currently serves as the pastor for the Hunter’s Chapel Church in Como, Mississippi. Wilkins has infused his community with the music traditions of Northern Mississippi hill country blues, earning his chops playing at the jukes and country picnics, as well as in church. Among other musicians, he has drawn noted folklorist Alan Lomax and other traditional music explorers to this place to hear and document the unique sound. As a professional touring musician for decades, he has acted as ambassador for hill country music & culture across the globe. In Wilkins’s leadership role at Hunter’s Chapel, he kindly welcomes pilgrims from all over the world who seek a better understanding of a place so culturally significant in American music. In his own community, Wilkins uses his gospel and blues music to connect churchgoers to others and themselves and to the goodness in the world through hope, faith, and love. Hunter's Chapel Church has grown tremendously, especially the youth department, since Rev. Wilkins became pastor. Rev. Wilkins aspires to open a Music and Arts Academy focusing on youth and music theory, vocal and instrumental teaching, dance, engineering and song writing.
Phil Woodmore, Saint Louis, MO
Phil Woodmore has been an active member of the St. Louis music community for many years. During his decade of work as a music educator and choir director in the Ferguson-Florissant School District, Phil promoted music and the arts as a vehicle for young people to develop into good citizens. He is the Coordinator of the Voice Program at the Center of Creative Arts (COCA) where he is the artist director of the Allegro Music Company, the Saint Louis Metropolitan Police Department Choir, minister of music at Trinity Community Church, vocal coach to many in St. Louis and New York and was recently named the director of the Saint Louis Community Gospel Choir. In 2016, after Michael Brown was murdered in Ferguson, MO, Brian Doerries, Artistic Director of Theater of War, invited Phil to collaborate on a project in honor of Michael Brown for which he composed a musical score for Sophocles’ Antigone and put together a choir made up of individuals with varying views, backgrounds, and experiences. Antigone in Ferguson was performed in Ferguson and subsequently ran for 10-weeks at the St. Ann & the Holy Trinity Church in Brooklyn stimulating powerful dialogues with audiences from all walks of life about issues of police violence.
Hannibal Lokumbe, Bastrop, TX
Classic composer and jazz trumpeter Hannibal Lokumbe was selected as the Americans for the Arts 2020 Johnson Fellow for Artists Transforming Communities. He has been celebrating and commemorating the African-American experience through music and words for over four decades. Lokumbe’s work has been commissioned and performed by symphonies and orchestras across the country, including The Philadelphia Chamber Orchestra (“Can you hear God Crying?” conducted by Dirk Brossé, 2012) including teen musicians, The Detroit Symphony Orchestra (“Dear Mrs. Parks,” conducted by Thomas Wilkins, 2005) and The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra (“God, Mississippi and a Man Called Evers” conducted by Dr. Leslie Dunner, 2002).Lokumbe is the founder and director of the Music Liberation Orchestra, a program that teaches music, genealogy and writing to incarcerated men around the country in institutions such as the Bastrop County Jail, located in Bastrop, Texas, Orleans Parish prison, located in New Orleans, La., and Holmesburg Prison located in Philadelphia, Pa. In 2014, Lokumbe completed “Trilogy Freedom Dance Cycle,” a narrative about the murders of three who were registering African-Americans to vote in Mississippi during the Freedom Summer Campaign in 1964.
Aengus Finnan, Kansas City, KS
Aengus Finnan is Executive Director of Folk Alliance International based in Kansas City. Prior to this role he was the Touring and Audience Development Officer for the Ontario Arts Council in Toronto, was a Program Manager for Community Futures, was the founding Artistic Director of the Shelter Valley Folk Festival, served as the Board President of the Ontario Council of Folk Festivals (now Folk Music Ontario), and taught music in the Arctic. He spent 10 years as a touring singer-songwriter and released 3 acclaimed albums.
Billy Keefe, Minneapolis, MN
Billy Keefe is strategic communications manager at Arts Midwest with two decades of experience working for nonprofits in the arts and education at BAM, Sesame Workshop, and NYU. In his artistic life, Billy runs a creative studio in Minneapolis, MN called Box Factory and serves as the co-director of LALA Festival. Billy created and hosted The Gone, a transgender sci-fi radio show on 89.1FM in NYC, launched the media lab at Urban Arts Partnership, and has programmed art technology showcases for the Brooklyn Experimental Media Center and NYU MAGNET. His performance work has shown at NY Live Arts (NYC), Dixon Place (NYC), and Red Eye Theater (Minneapolis).
Caitlin Strokosch, New Orleans, LA
Caitlin is CEO of National Performance Network. Most recently, she served as executive director of the Alliance of Artists Communities – an international association of artist residencies. A frequent public speaker and recognized advocate for artists of all disciplines, Caitlin is an advisory board member of Transcultural Exchange and a board member of the Performing Arts Alliance. Strokosch holds a bachelor’s degree in music performance from Columbia College Chicago and a master’s degree in musicology from Roosevelt University, where her research focused on music as a tool for building communities of resistance and social dissent.
Carlton Turner, Utica, MS
Carlton Turner is a performing artist, arts advocate, policy shaper, lecturer, consultant, and facilitator. He is also founder of the Mississippi Center for Cultural Production (Sipp Culture). The MCCP uses arts and agriculture to support rural community, cultural, and economic development in his hometown of Utica, Mississippi. Carlton is also co-founder and co-artistic director, along with his brother Maurice Turner, of the group M.U.G.A.B.E.E. (Men Under Guidance Acting Before Early Extinction), a Mississippi-based performing arts group that blends jazz, hip-hop, spoken word poetry and soul music together with non-traditional storytelling. Carlton is on the board of First People’s Fund, Imagining America, the Center for Media Justice, and Project South for the Elimination of Poverty and Genocide, and the former long-time Executive Director of Alternate ROOTS.
David C. Howse, Boston, MA
David Howse is Senior Associate Vice President of Emerson College and Executive Director of ArtsEmerson, and co-leads Emerson College's multi-faceted Office of the Arts. He is a recognized speaker and commentator on the arts and social integration, and for over a decade has been a leader in the arts and culture sector. Howse previously served as the Executive Director of the award-winning Boston Children’s Chorus that brings youth ages 7 to 18 from the Greater Boston to sing together. The singers’ powerful voices and rich diversity have inspired audiences in Boston and throughout the world. As a founding staff member, Howse was instrumental in helping grow BCC from a pilot project serving 20 kids in 2003 to a vibrant organization educating over 500 singers in 12 choirs in 5 locations. David served on the board of Chorus America.
Holly Hunter, Brooklyn, NY
Currently at National Sawdust, a Brooklyn-based artist residency space and home for all genres of new music, Holly’s role as Director of National Sawdust Projects & Community Engagement involves producing, commissioning, and touring new interdisciplinary projects that speak to themes of social justice, as well as developing the venue’s community engagement initiatives. Holly is a producer and programmer whose focus is to create meaningful opportunities for people of all walks of life to experience and participate in the highest-quality art and collaborate with the world’s leading artists. In 2018, Holly was Associate Producer for the Lincoln Center Mostly Mozart Festival’s commission, In the Name of the Earth, by composer John Luther Adams, performed by 800 singers in St John the Divine Cathedral, New York City. Holly spent seven years at Southbank Centre where she ran the community singing program, Voicelab, programmed the annual Chorus and WHY? What’s Happening for the Young festivals, and produced a wide range of public programs and participatory workshops.
Jennifer Joy Jameson, CA & Alice Pierotti, Como, MS
Jennifer Jameson is Program Manager with the Alliance of California Traditional Artists. She is a folklorist and cultural organizer with degrees in ethnomusicology and folk studies. Her previous work experience includes Folk/Traditional Arts Director at the Mississippi Arts Commission and work with museums, archives, festivals, and cultural organizations on the federal, state, and local level, including positions at the Smithsonian’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, Traditional Arts Indiana, the Kentucky Folklife Program, the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, and Tennessee’s historic Highlander Center.
Alice Pierotti is an award-winning librarian working most recently with the Como Public Library in rural North Mississippi Hill County, which houses and engages a unique collection of local Hill Country blues sound recordings, photos, and artifacts. She stewarded a musical repatriation project with the Alan Lomax Archive. Pierotti is engaged in projects where story, art, and community intersect and is especially dedicated to making Mississippi a better place to live, work, and visit. She earned her Master’s of Library and Information Science from San Jose State University and her BA from Western State College, while studying English at Headwaters, a regional studies program.
Kevin Erickson, Washington DC
As director pf the Future of Music Coalition, Kevin Erickson works at the intersection of DIY music, community organizing, and policy. His experience spans the full range of the music industry, from community radio to live show booking and promotion to brick & mortar music retail management. Before joining FMC's team in 2012, he directed All-ages Movement Project, a national non-profit network of all-ages music venues and youth music programs. He has contributed opinion pieces to outlets as disparate as The Nation and Pitchfork, volunteers with Positive Force DC, and remains active as a musician and record producer, operating Swim-Two-Birds recording studio in DC, alongside husband Hugh McElroy.
Reuben Roqueñi, Vancouver, WA
Reuben Roqueñi (Yaqui/Mayo/Chicanx) has been working in arts philanthropy for more than 12 years. At the Native Arts & Cultures Foundation, he oversees the National Artist Fellowships Program. Previously, Reuben was Program Officer in the Performing Arts Program at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation in the San Francisco Bay Area; and served as Grants Program Director at Arts Foundation for Tucson and Southern Arizona.
Sebastian Ruth, Providence RI
Sebastian Ruth, violinist & violist, is founder and artistic director of Community MusicWorks, Providence, RI, whose mission is to create a cohesive urban community through music education and performance that transforms the lives of children, families, and musicians. Sebastian is the recipient of a 2010 MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, recognized for “forging a new, multifaceted role beyond the concert hall for the twenty-first-century musician." He has presented widely on citizen artistry, entrepreneurship, and music. Sebastian has served as an Assistant Professor of the Practice of Music at Brown University. His online course Music and Social Action, through Coursera, has had over 10,000 learners.
Simone Eccleston, Washington DC
Simone Eccleston is the inaugural Director of Hip Hop Culture and Contemporary Music at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, leading a center-wide commitment to hip-hop culture as well as programming R&B, soul, and other contemporary forms. In 2018, she established the Kennedy Center Hip Hop Culture Council in partnership with Artistic Director of Hip Hop Culture, rapper and producer, Q-Tip. She is former program director at Harlem Stage.
William Lackey, Minneapolis, MN
William J. Lackey is a composer and serves as Vice President of Programs at the American Composers Forum. Billy found his love of sound and motion on club dance floors at an early age. Billy’s continued exploration of sound and the movement of sound can be heard in the form of concert works, installations, theatrical pieces, and on the dance floor. Billy was selected as a McKnight Visiting Fellow in 2011, collaborating with several communities in Hector, Minnesota, to develop a multimedia work that explored the history of farming in that part of the state. Billy’s experience in Hector gave a new perspective on how composers can find interesting ways to engage community.
Dawn Avery, cellist and scholar, has been melding modern classical music with her Mohawk lineage for several decades. She seeks to mitigate a “disconnect” between audience and musician in her concerts and to “create communities through music.” Avery has earned a Grammy nomination, a role in the American Composers Forum’s First Nations Composer Initiative and the North American Indian Cello Project. She currently teaches in the world music program at Montgomery College.
Krista Bradley is Director of Programs & Resources for the Association of Performing Arts Professionals. She previously led Black Rock Center for the Arts and was a program officer in performing arts for the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation. She has worked across a wide range of musical forms and is a choral and a capella singer.
Anya Grundmann is Senior Vice President for Programming and Audience Development at National Public Radio. Previously, Grundmann served as the Executive Director of NPR Music, a premiere award-winning source for music discovery and innovative multiplatform journalism where she oversaw popular NPR series and podcasts including: All Songs Considered, First Listen, Tiny Desk, Alt.Latino, and Turning The Tables, among others.
Vijay Gupta, violinist and citizen-artist, is a leading advocate for the role of the arts and music to heal, inspire, provoke change, and foster social connection. Gupta is the founder and Artistic Director of Street Symphony, a non-profit organization providing musical engagement, dialogue and teaching artistry for homeless and incarcerated communities in Los Angeles. He is a former violinist with the LA Philharmonic and a board member of Americans for the Arts.
Suzan Jenkins is Executive Director of the Arts & Humanities Council of Montgomery County. She has served as a marketing consultant to the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music in the Imperial City of Fes, Morocco and worked with artists interested in exploring cultural exchange, such as bringing Mardi Gras Indians in New Orleans, Louisiana, to Essaouira, Morocco to participate in the Gnaoua Festival, and in bringing rhythm and blues musicians to Madrid, Spain in the 1990s and jazz students to the Hague and Panama. She has held executive positions at the Rhythm and Blues Foundation, the Smithsonian Institution and the Recording Industry Association of America.
Kristen Madsen is Director of Arts at the Sonoma County Economic Development Board in California. She served for more than 20 years at the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences in a leadership role with GRAMMY Foundation where she started Grammy Camp, a music career program. She was previously Executive Director of the California Assembly of Local Arts Agencies .
Mara Walker is chief operating officer for Americans for the Arts and ushered the Johnson Fellowship for Artists Transforming Communities into being. Mara has worked in arts administration for more than 25 years at a variety of theater companies and arts organizations nationwide. She is currently Vice Chair of theatreWashington and serves on the International Advisory Board of the Hong Kong Arts Development Council.