Joyce Foundation Awardee

Hannibal Lokumbe with VocalEssence


Hannibal Lokumbe is a composer and jazz trumpeter whose career spans more than forty years. After moving to New York in 1970, he spent the next twenty-five years there playing trumpet and recording with legends such as Gil Evans, Pharoah Sanders, and Elvin Jones. Lokumbe eventually formed his own Sunrise Orchestra, which has toured the world playing in every major music festival from Istanbul to China. He has composed more than 150 works, many of which have historical subjects such as John Brown, Anne Frank, and Rosa Parks. He is the recipient of numerous awards from the Bessie, the National Endowment for the Arts, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

Lokumbe created a new musical work, In the Spirit of Being, which was funded by his Joyce Award and commissioned by VocalEssence. It was performed on February 19, 2012, at VocalEssence’s annual WITNESS program. The sixty-minute, four-movement piece featured a jazz quartet, a children's chorus, a mixed chorus and soloist Tonia Hughes. The four movements represent the stages of the human experience — the gift of life, struggle/the wall of pain, metamorphosis, and ever unending circles of peace — as seen through the eyes of the composer.

In the Spirit of Being is an autobiographical account of Lokumbe’s life, and each of the four movements represents the artist’s metamorphosis from one veil of consciousness to another. It took Lokumbe only three weeks away from the world in a forest to simultaneously write the music and the text of this piece. The composition is inspired by principles from major world religions and aims to show how all individuals are interconnected through their past, present, and future regardless of their differences and cultural backgrounds.

Founded in 1969 by conductor and choral scholar Philip Brunelle, VocalEssence is recognized internationally for its exploration of innovative music for voices and instruments. It champions choral music of all genres and has commissioned or premiered more than 135 works to date. Concerts range from Bach to John Philip Sousa, to programs with public radio star Garrison Keillor and the highly popular WITNESS program, an annual celebration of choral music that focuses on new and forgotten works by African American composers.

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