About the Composers & Librettists

Learn more about the creators of Journeys to Justice.

Jasmine Arielle Barnes is a promising young composer/vocalist who has performed and has had her music performed all over the world. She is a multifaceted composer who embraces any writing style of music using a variety of instrumentation and specializes in writing for the voice. She proved her musical prowess in her debut composition concert entitled "Reality Race and Religion" that took place on May 9th, 2018 in the Gilliam Concert Hall of the Carl J. Murphy Fine Arts Center. The Concert featured major performers such as Marquita Lister, Leah Hawkins, Alexandria Crichlow, Christian Simmons, conductors such as Jordan Smith of Symphony Number One, Angelo Johnson of the Carter Legacy Singers, James Mayo of Camerata Baltimore, Jonathan Pettus of The Jonathan Pettus Chorale, Chamber Orchestra, Choir and many more talented performers and conductors. She was the very first Composition major of Morgan State University, thus hosting the first composition recital, setting the bar high for those to follow. She has had the privilege of working with the Morgan State University Choir, who has performed her music in three of the seven continents and all over the United States. In her participation as an artist in The Glimmerglass Festival 2017, She was presented with the experience of having a few of the 2017 YAPs performing her arrangement of "Wade in the Water" at the Gospel Concert hosted by Soloman Howard. She has held the privilege of being commissioned by Baltimore Chamber Orchestra Symphony Number One for a short piece entitled "The Mind,"  she was commissioned by Carl Alexander and The Voic(ed) Project for a song cycle entitled "Songs for the African Violet." Performed by Leah Hawkins, Tennessee State University Meistersingers under the direction of Susan Kelly, The Burleigh Music Festival, and has many commissions in wait.

Jasmine is not only a composer/vocalist, but an educator. She is the Head of Compositional Studies and Jazz Voice Studies at Booker T Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas, TX. She holds her Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts in Music from Morgan State University in Baltimore Maryland. Her Master of Arts in Music was earned as a Composition student studying under Dr. James Lee III. She held the esteemed pleasure of being a Graduate Teaching Assistant teaching Music Theory and Aural Skills to students of Morgan State University. Her professional career in teaching has lead her to educator honors such as National Young Arts Foundation Educator (5x recipient), Teacher Recognition award recipient from American Composer's Forum; NextNotes High School Music Creator Competition, as well as partnering with AT&T Performing Arts Center in creating a composition competition for her students to compose an original piece for the acclaimed chandelier in the AT&T Performing Arts Center in Dallas, TX, home of the Dallas Opera. She is a proud member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated as well as Sigma Alpha Iota International Music Fraternity Inc. One motto of Sigma Alpha Iota that Jasmine holds true to her life as an artist is "Vita Brevis, Ars Longa" which translates from Latin to English as "Life is Short, Art is Long". She believes that giving your all to music, contributing to the arts, and teaching what you've learned is truly upholding art and being a true musician.

Bio and photo courtesy of jasminebarnescomposer.com


A widely sought-after and award-winning composer, Shawn E. Okpebholo has been described by Augusta Read Thomas as "...a beautiful artist ...who has enormous grace in his music, and fantasy and color." Okpebholo comfortably composes in various styles and genres, intentional in creating music that is diverse, dynamic, and genuine. His artistry has resulted in many prizes and honors, including First Place Winner of the 2020 American Prize in Composition (professional/wind band division) and Second Place Winner in the 2017 American Prize in Composition (professional/orchestral division), First Prize Winner in the Flute New Music Consortium Composition Competition, Sound of Late Composition Contest, Accent06 International Composition Competition, and the Inaugural Awardee of the Leslie Adams-Robert Owens Composition Award.

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. He was awarded a two-year residency with the Chicago Opera Theater (2021-2023 seasons) and has had performances by many celebrated artists and ensembles, including The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra; Fifth House Ensemble; Ensemble Dal Niente's Tara Lynn Ramsey and Kyle Flens; United States Army Field Band; vocalists J'Nai Bridges, Will Liverman, Ryan McKinney, Robert Sims, and Tamera Wilson; pianists Paul Tuntland 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 the International Tuba and Euphonium Association, the United States Air Force, Astral Artists, the Ohio Music Education Association, The Meir Rimon Commissioning Program of the International Horn Society, to name a few. And his music has been featured on numerous festivals, concert series, and radio broadcasts, including the EarTaxi Contemporary Music Festival; Washington National Opera: Monuments of Hope series, Lyric Opera of Chicago recital series, Monte Music Festival (Goa, India); MusicX Contemporary Music Festival; The Uncommon Music Festival (Alaska); Front Wave New Music Festival; national conferences of the National Flute Association, Society of Composers, Inc., College Band Directors National Association, and Christian Fellowship of Art Music Composers; and Chicago's WFMT 98.7 and Cincinnati's WGUC 90.9. 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.

As a pedagogue, Okpebholo has given masterclasses at many academic institutions worldwide, including two universities in Nigeria, and has served on the faculty of summer music festivals, currently on the Fresh Ink Festival's composition faculty. His compositional and research interests have been a gateway for ethnomusicological fieldwork in both East and West Africa: studying the music of the Esan people in southern Nigeria, the Akambe people in the Machakos region of Kenya, and South Sudanese refugees in northern Uganda. His field research has resulted in two chamber works, two symphonic works, transcriptions, and academic lectures. Grants from the Illinois Arts Council, Tangemen Sacred Music Center, Wheaton College, and Pew Research Grant (Union University) have supported his work.

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. A significant part of his music education growing up was through The Salvation Army church, where he regularly received free music lessons. Inspired by that charity, Okpebholo is passionate about volunteering his musical talents 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.

Biography and photo courtesy of shawnokpebholo.com.


Dudley Randall was born on January 14, 1914, in Washington, D. C. In 1920 his family moved to Detroit, Michigan, where his father, Arthur Randall, worked for Ford Motor Company. Randall began writing seriously at age thirteen, and in 1927 his first published poem appeared in the Detroit Free Press

Randall graduated from Detroit’s Eastern High School in 1930. He began working full-time at the Ford Motor Company foundry in 1932. After he was laid off in 1937, he served as a postal carrier and clerk for Detroit’s U.S. Post Office for several years. During this time, he became friends with the poet Robert Hayden, who also lived in Detroit. In 1943 he was drafted into the U.S. Army and served in the South Pacific during World War II.

After returning from the Pacific front in 1946, Randall received a BA in English from Wayne State University in 1949 and an MA in library science from the University of Michigan in 1951. He went on to serve as a librarian at several universities, including the University of Detroit, where he was also the poet in residence.

In the 1960s, Randall became involved in the Black Arts Movement. He published “Ballad of Birmingham,” a poem in response to the tragic church bombing in Alabama, in 1963. In 1965 he established Broadside Press, which published many prominent African American poets. Broadside Press’s first book was Poem Counterpoem (1966), a collaboration between Randall and Margeret Esse Danner. In 1978, Black Enterprise magazine called him “the father of the black poetry movement of the 1960s.”

During his lifetime, Randall published several poetry collections, including A Litany of Friends: New and Selected Poems (Lotus Press, 1981) and More to Remember: Poems of Four Decades (Third World Press, 1971). He also edited the anthologies The Black Poets (Bantam Books, 1985) and For Malcolm: Poems on the Life and Death of Malcolm X (Broadside Press, 1967).

In 1981, Randall was appointed the poet laureate of Detroit. He died on August 5, 2000.

Read the libretto for "Ballad of Birmingham” here.


Marcus Amaker was named Charleston, SC’s first Poet Laureate in 2016. He’s also the award-winning graphic designer of a national music journal (No Depression), an internationally known electronic musician, the creator of a poetry festival, and a mentor to hundreds of students.

His poetry has been presented by The Kennedy Center, and has appeared in The Chicago Tribune, Edutopia, Washington Post, Departures Magazine, PBS Newshour, SC Public Radio, Charleston Magazine, Charleston Magazine, Charleston City Paper, North Dakota Quarterly, Post and Courier, Charleston Scene and several other publications.

In 2019, he won a Governor’s Arts award in South Carolina, and was named the artist-in-residence of the Gaillard Center, a world-renowned performance and education venue.

His poetry has been studied in classrooms around the world, and has been interpreted for ballet, jazz, modern dance, opera and theater. Marcus has recorded three albums with Grammy Award winning drummer and producer Quentin E. Baxter.

His eighth book is The Birth of All Things, from Free Verse Press.

Biography and photo courtesy of marcusamaker.com.


Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty are considered the foremost theatrical writing team of their generation and are members of the Theater Hall of Fame. They won Tony, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards for Ragtime, and were nominated for two Academy Awards and two Golden Globes for Anastasia, Twentieth Century Fox’s animated feature film. Anastasia is also now a long-running hit on Broadway. Last season, their Once On This Island won Broadway's 2018 Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical. In 2019, Ahrens and Flaherty were nominated for their fourth Grammy Award, as well as for the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame. Other theatre credits include Seussical (one of the most produced shows in America); Rocky; My Favorite Year; Chita Rivera-The Dancer's Life; Dessa Rose; A Man of No Importance; The Glorious Ones; Lucky Stiff and two upcoming shows, Knoxville and Marie, which will premiere at Seattle’s Fifth Avenue Theater this April. Council, Dramatists Guild of America; co-founders, Dramatists Guild Fellows Program.

Photo and biography courtesy of AhrensandFlaherty.com


Terrence McNally had a remarkably far-ranging career, including a new work on Broadway in each of the last six decades. In 2018 he was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He is a 2019 recipient of a Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement. He also received the Dramatists Guild Lifetime Achievement Award and the Lucille Lortel Lifetime Achievement Award.

He won four Tony Awards for his plays Love! Valour! Compassion! and Master Class and his musical books for Kiss of the Spider Woman and Ragtime. He wrote a number of TV scripts, including "Andre's Mother," for which he won an Emmy Award. He received two Guggenheim Fellowships, a Rockefeller Grant, four Drama Desk Awards, two Lucille Lortel Awards, two Obie Awards, and three Hull-Warriner Awards from the Dramatists Guild.

In 1996 he was inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame. He wrote the libretto for the operas Great Scott and Dead Man Walking, both with music by Jake Heggie. Other plays include Mothers and Sons; Lips Together, Teeth Apart; The Lisbon Traviata; Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune; A Perfect Ganesh; The Visit; The Full Monty; Corpus Christi; Bad Habits; Next; The Ritz; Anastasia; It's Only a Play; Where Has Tommy Flowers Gone?; and The Stendhal Syndrome.

Photo and biography courtesy of mtishows.com.


Damien Geter’s artistry and career is diverse and multifaceted—including critically-acclaimed work as a composer, classical singer (bass), actor, and scholar.  

As a composer, Damien Geter infuses classical music with various styles from the Black diaspora to create music that furthers the cause of social justice. His most recent composition, The Talk: Instructions for Black Children When They Interact with the Police, was premiered with Resonance Ensemble in June 2019. His large work for chorus and orchestra, An African American Requiem, is due to premiere with Resonance Ensemble and the Oregon Symphony in January 2021, along with a national broadcast; and a future performance of the piece is planned at the Kennedy Center in May 2021. In addition, he has been commissioned to create new works by The University of Michigan, The Washington Chorus, and Opera Theater Oregon, among others. 

As a classical singer (bass), Damien’s diverse performance credits range from the operatic stage to the television screen. Damien's 2019-2020 season includes appearances with the Metropolitan Opera (Undertaker in Porgy and Bess), Seattle Opera (Colonel in The Rising and the Falling), Eugene Opera (Angelotti in Tosca). Other appearances included roles with Seattle Opera in the role of the Undertaker, and covering the role of Jake in Porgy and Bess; with Vashon Opera in the role of Colline in La Bohème and Dr.Grenvil in Verdi’s La Traviata with Portland Opera. Additional credits include the Four Villains in Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffmann; Colline in Puccini's La Bohème; Alcindoro (La Bohème), Bass Slave (David Lang’s The Difficulty of Crossing a Field), and Soloist (David Lang’s Little Match Girl Passion). A highly sought-after singer on the concert stage, Damien's repertoire in that realm includes Elijah, Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, Brahms' Requiem, Verdi's Requiem, and Mozart's Requiem, to name a few.

Damien made his TV debut in the role of John Sacks on NBC's Grimm. He was also seen in Netflix's Trinkets which aired in spring of 2019. He is the owner of DG Music, Sans Fear Publishing.

Learn more at damiengeter.com and damiengetermusic.com.


Carlos Simon is a native of Atlanta, Georgia whose music ranges from concert music for large and small ensembles to film scores with influences of jazz, gospel, and neo-romanticism. 

Simon was named as one of the recipients for the 2021 Sphinx Medal of Excellence. The Sphinx Medal of Excellence is the highest honor bestowed by the Sphinx Organization, recognizing extraordinary classical Black and Latinx musicians. Along with a $50,000 career grant, Sphinx annually awards the Medals of Excellence to three artists who, early in their career, demonstrate artistic excellence, outstanding work ethic, a spirit of determination, and an ongoing commitment to leadership in their communities. Simon’s latest album, My Ancestor's Gift, was released on the Navona Records label in April 2018. Described as an “overall driving force” (Review Graveyard) and featured on Apple Music’s “Albums to Watch”, My Ancestor's Gift incorporates spoken word and historic recordings to craft a multifaceted program of musical works that are inspired as much by the past as they are the present.

As a part of the Sundance Institute, Simon was named as a Sundance/Time Warner Composer Fellow in 2018, which was held at the historic Skywalker Ranch. His string quartet, Elegy, honoring the lives of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Eric Garner was recently performed at the Kennedy Center for the Mason Bates JFK Jukebox Series. With support from the US Embassy in Tokyo and US/Japan Foundation, Simon traveled with the Asia/America New Music Institute (AANMI) on a two-week tour of Japan in 2018 performing concerts in some of the most sacred temples and concert spaces in Japan including Suntory Hall in Tokyo,  Japan.  Other recent accolades include being a Composer Fellow at the Cabrillo Festival for Contemporary Music, winning the Underwood Emerging Composer Commission from the American Composers Orchestra in 2016, the prestigious Marvin Hamlisch Film Scoring Award in 2015, and the Presser Award from the Theodore Presser Foundation in 2015. He has also served as a contributing arranger for Rachel Barton Pine Foundation's Music by Black Composers series for violin.

Recent commissions have come from the New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Los Angeles Opera, Philadelphia Orchestra, Washington National Opera, Reno Philharmonic, the American Composers Orchestra, Arizona State University Symphony Orchestra, Irving Klein String Competition, Morehouse College celebrating its 150th founding anniversary, the University of Michigan Symphony Band celebrating the university’s 200th anniversary, Albany Symphony’s Dogs of Desire (American Music Festival) as well as serving as the young composer-in-residence with the the Detroit Chamber String and Winds in 2016. Simon’s music has been performed by Tony Arnold, the Third Angle New Music Ensemble, Hub New Music Ensemble, the Asian/American New Music Institute, the Flint Symphony, the Color of Music Festival, University of North Texas Symphony Band, University of Miami Symphony Band, Georgia State University Wind Ensemble and many other professional performance organizations. His piece, Let America Be America Again (text by Langston Hughes) is scheduled to be featured in an upcoming PBS documentary chronicling the inaugural Gabriela Lena Frank Academy of Music. He has served as a member of the music faculty at Spelman College and Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia and now serves as Assistant Professor at Georgetown University.

Acting as music director and keyboardist for GRAMMY Award winner Jennifer Holliday, Simon has performed with the Boston Pops Symphony, Jackson Symphony, and St. Louis Symphony. He has toured internationally with soul GRAMMY-nominated artist, Angie Stone, and performed throughout Europe, Africa, and Asia.

Simon earned his doctorate degree at the University of Michigan, where he studied with Michael Daugherty and Evan Chambers. He has also received degrees from Georgia State University and Morehouse College. Additionally, he studied in Baden, Austria at the Hollywood Music Workshop with Conrad Pope and at New York University’s Film Scoring Summer Workshop.

Carlos Simon, Jr. is a member of many music organizations including ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers), where he was honored as one of the "Composers to Watch" in 2015 and will take part in the ASCAP Film Music Workshop in Los Angeles, California in 2019. He is also an honorary member of Phi Mu Alpha Music Sinfonia Fraternity and a member of the National Association of Negro Musicians, Society of Composers International, and Pi Kappa Lambda Music Honor Society. His compositions have been published by the Gregorian Institute of America (GIA) Publications and Hal Leonard Publications.

Biography and photo courtesy of coliversimon.com.


Sandra Seaton is a playwright and librettist. Her plays have been performed in cities throughout the country, including New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, and her libretto for the song cycle From the Diary of Sally Hemings, a collaboration with Pulitzer Prize-winning composer William Bolcom has been sung at such venues as Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, the Herbst Theatre in San Francisco and the Rialto Performing Arts Center in Atlanta. In a review of the song cycle’s premiere at the Library of Congress, Seaton’s text was praised by the Washington Post for its “subtle, penetrating power.” A CD of From The Diary of Sally Hemings, with Met soprano Alyson Cambridge and pianist Lydia Brown, is available from White Pine Music. The score has been published by Hal Leonard.

Seaton’s one-woman drama Sally, in which an aged Sally Hemings recalls her life with Jefferson, premiered in 2003 with Zabryna Guevara as Sally Hemings. Sally was performed at Bucknell University in April 2012 as a part of a media event titled Sally:A Montage.  Seaton’s play A Bed Made in Heaven further explores the relationship between Jefferson and Sally Hemings. 

The Bridge Party, Seaton’s first play, as a finalist for the 1990 Theodore Ward Prize, was given two performances directed by Paul Carter Harrison at Columbia College in Chicago. The play was selected for the anthology Strange Fruit: Plays on Lynching by American Women (1998) edited by Judy Stephens and Kathy Perkins. The Bridge Party portrays a group of Southern black women whose weekly bridge game is interrupted by news of a lynching. Ruby Dee starred in a 1998 performance at the University of Michigan.  William Bolcom’s rags provided musical background for The Bridge Party in a 2000 production. 

In 2005 Seaton’s spoken word piece, King: A Reflection on the Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., premiered at the Wharton Center in East Lansing, Michigan and has been presented at the Virgil Carr Center in Detroit and the Gerald R. Ford Museum in Grand Rapids with accompaniment by world-famous tenor George Shirley.

In 2008 her play The Will, a drama about a black Tennessee family during Reconstruction, premiered in Idlewild, Michigan at an event Seaton organized that included a symposium, recitals and music clinics. In 2010 her Civil Rights era play Music History, about African-American college students at the University of Illinois in 1963, premiered at MSU in conjunction with a day-long symposium on the cultural and legal issues raised by the play.

Seaton’s most recent work is Chicago Trilogy. The three one-act plays, A Chance Meeting, The Lookout, and Black for Dinner, are based on short stories by the African American Chicago writer Cyrus Colter. A Chance Meeting, premiered at the University of Michigan’s Arthur Miller Theater with actors Tony Lucas and George Shirley in 2009. Chicago Trilogy will be performed at the 2015 Atlanta Black Theatre Festival, directed by Mardra Thomas, with George Shirley, Mardra Thomas, and Keith Williams. 

Sandra Seaton is a  former Professor of English at Central Michigan University and the 2010 writer-in- residence for the Michigan State University College of Law. Seaton is a recipient of the Mark Twain Award “for distinguished contributions to Midwestern Literature” from the Society for the Study of Midwestern Literature.  She has been awarded residencies at Hedgebrook, Ragdale, and Yaddo artists’ colonies and is a member of the Dramatists Guild, Black Theatre Network and Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI). In 2015 Sandra Seaton received the Chris Clark Fellowship from the Arts Council of Greater Lansing.

Biography and photo courtesy of sandraseaton.com.


Adolphus Hailstork received his doctorate in composition from Michigan State University, where he was a student of H. Owen Reed. He had previously studied at the Manhattan School of Music, under Vittorio Giannini and David Diamond, at the American Institute at Fontainebleau with Nadia Boulanger, and at Howard University with Mark Fax.

Dr. Hailstork has written numerous works for chorus, solo voice, piano, organ, various chamber ensembles, band, orchestra, and opera.

Among his early compositions are: Celebration, recorded by the Detroit Symphony in 1976; Out of the Depths (1977), and American Guernica (1983), are two band works which won national competitions. Consort Piece (1995) commissioned by the Norfolk (Va.) Chamber Ensemble, was awarded first prize by the University of Delaware Festival of Contemporary Music.

Significant performances by major orchestras (Philadelphia, Chicago, and New York) have been led by leading conductors such as James de Priest, Paul Freeman, Daniel Barenboim, Kurt Masur, Lorin Maezel, Jo Ann Falletta and David Lockington. This March, Thomas Wilkins conducted Hailstork’s An American Port of Call with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

The composer’s second symphony (commissioned by the Detroit Symphony, and second opera, Joshua's Boots (commissioned by the Opera Theatre of St. Louis and the Kansas City Lyric Opera) were both premiered in 1999. Hailstork’s second and third symphonies were recorded by the Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestra (David Lockington) and were released by Naxos. Another Naxos recording, An American Port of Call (Virginia Symphony Orchestra) was released in spring 2012.

Recent commissions include Rise for Freedom, an opera about the Underground Railroad, premiered in the fall of 2007 by the Cincinnati Opera Company, Set me on a Rock (re: Hurricane Katrina), for chorus and orchestra, commissioned by the Houston Choral Society (2008), and the choral ballet, The Gift of the Magi, for treble chorus and orchestra, (2009). In the fall of 2011, Zora, We're Calling You, a work for speaker and orchestra was premiered by the Orlando Symphony. I Speak of Peace commissioned by the Bismarck Symphony (Beverly Everett, conductor) in honor of (and featuring the words of) President John F. Kennedy was premiered in November of 2013.

Hailstork’s newest works include The World Called (based on Rita Dove’s poem Testimonial), a work for soprano, chorus and orchestra commissioned by the Oratorio Society of Virginia (premiered in May 2018) and Still Holding On (February 2019) an orchestra work commissioned and premiered by the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He is currently working on his Fourth Symphony, and A Knee on a Neck (tribute to George Floyd) for chorus and orchestra.

Dr. Hailstork resides in Virginia Beach Virginia, and is Professor of Music and Eminent Scholar at Old Dominion University in Norfolk.   

Biography and photo courtesy of adolphushailstork.com.


Dr. Adolphus Hailstork's piece, Songs of Love and Justice, is set to the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Learn more about Dr. King, and his legacy, here.


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