In honor of Black History Month, we’re featuring several influential Black composers that have made an impression on FCM audiences in recent performances, starting with New York-based composer Jessie Montgomery, named Musical America’s Composer of the Year (2023).

Photo: Jiyang Chen

Montgomery is a GRAMMY-nominated, acclaimed composer, violinist, and educator whose music interweaves classical music with elements of vernacular music, improvisation, poetry, and social consciousness, making her an acute interpreter of twenty-first century American sound and experience. Her profoundly felt works have been described as “turbulent, wildly colorful and exploding with life’“ (The Washington Post) and are performed regularly by leading orchestras and ensembles around the world. In July 2021, she began a three-year appointment as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Mead Composer-in-Residence.

Jessie was born and raised in Manhattan’s Lower East Side in the 1980s during a time when the neighborhood was at a major turning point in its history. Artists gravitated to the hotbed of artistic experimentation and community development. Her parents – her father a musician, her mother a theater artist and storyteller – were engaged in the activities of the neighborhood and regularly brought Jessie to rallies, performances, and parties where neighbors, activists, and artists gathered to celebrate and support the movements of the time. It is from this unique experience that Jessie has created a life that merges composing, performance, education, and advocacy.

Montgomery’s work Soul Force was featured on the New York Youth Symphony’s debut album release, “Works by Florence Price, Jessie Montgomery, Valerie Coleman.” The album took home a Grammy award for “Best Orchestral Performance “during the ceremony on February 5.

Enjoy an excerpt from the Harlem Quartet’s December 2021 performance on our series which included Montgomery’s work Strum.