Arts Blog

Five Contemporary LGBTQI+ Artists We Love to Play On Air

Desktop web banner for LGBTQI+ Pride Month 2024

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex (LGBTQI+) Pride Month is observed each year in commemoration of the June 1969 Stonewall Uprising in New York, a tipping point for the Gay Liberation Movement in the United States. Nationally, Pride Month is observed in June. Locally, the city of Portland celebrates its queer community in July.

In honor of Pride Month, All Classical is shining a spotlight on musicians from the LGBTQI+ community who bring so much beauty and joy to listeners around the world. Join us in celebrating the musical contributions of five extraordinary contemporary LGBTQI+ artists who we love to play on air all year round.


Jennifer Higdon standing in front of a yellow wall
Photo by Andrew Bogard; courtesy of Higdon’s website

JENNIFER HIGDON

Jennifer Higdon, a Pulitzer Prize and three-time GRAMMY award-winning composer and flutist, has proven herself a major figure in contemporary classical music time and time again. Higdon’s exquisite music encompasses a wide range of genres, from large-scale pieces for orchestra and stage to intimate songs for voice and piano. Among her many accolades, Higdon’s first opera, Cold Mountain, won the International Opera Award for Best World Premiere in 2016 (the first American opera to do so), and her GRAMMY award-winning recording of Percussion Concerto was inducted into the Library of Congress National Recording Registry in 2019.

Interestingly, Higdon had a relatively late start to music. At age 15, she taught herself to play flute, and she began formal studies in composition at 21. Nonetheless, Higdon’s path to a career in music has led her to become one of the most influential musical voices of our time. Her music is both distinct and accessible and has been praised as being “imbued with integrity and freshness.”

Together with her wife, Cheryl Lawson, the couple established their own publishing company, Lawdon Publishing (a fun combination of the couple’s last names), through which Higdon publishes all of her musical works. Fun fact – revered conductor Marin Alsop officiated the couple’s marriage in 2014.


Connor Chee playing piano
Photo courtesy of Chee’s website

CONNOR CHEE

Navajo pianist and composer Connor Chee is best known for combining his Western classical training with his Native American heritage. Making his Carnegie Hall debut at just 12 years old after winning the World Piano Competition, Chee is no stranger to the music world. Exposed to traditional Navajo music from a young age, Chee’s classical piano training proved to be a perfect companion for fulfilling the musician’s artistic spirit while also serving as a vehicle to preserve the beloved music of his ancestry.

Chee primarily writes for the piano and incorporates traditional Navajo chants and songs, in addition to piano transcriptions of Navajo music. In fact, writing down music that had previously been exclusively communicated orally was what drew Chee to composition in the first place. Currently based in Phoenix, Chee continues to perform throughout the United States. Several of his studio albums have earned accolades, including Best Instrumental Recording at the 16th Annual Native American Music Awards for The Navajo Piano.


Caroline Shaw sitting at a desk
Photo by Jason Quigley

CAROLINE SHAW

Violinist, vocalist, and composer Caroline Shaw is well known to All Classical audiences, as well as countless listeners around the world. The youngest recipient of the Pulitzer Prize in Music (she was 30 at the time), as well as the winner of several GRAMMY awards, Shaw has led an impressively prolific career—one that will undoubtedly continue to add meaningful works to the world’s musical vernacular. Her artistic collaborations include classical heavyweights such as Yo-Yo Ma, Renée Fleming, and Davóne Tines, as well as Spanish singer-songwriter Rosalía, French music video director Woodkid, and the American rapper Nas, not to mention a long list of films, video games, podcasts, ballets, and more.

Shaw’s music doesn’t adhere to strict genre guidelines but rather crosses over in unexpected ways, both in musical style and artistic collaboration. If you looked up the word “visionary” in the dictionary, Caroline Shaw’s name would come up. According to her official bio, through her music, Shaw is “trying to imagine a world of sound that has never been heard before but has always existed.”

In addition to Shaw’s extraordinary work as a composer, together with her partner Danni Lee, the couple created the band Ringdown, which they describe as “the love child of Johannes Brahms and Brandi Carlile—if they were born in the same century and if Brahms was a queer woman.”

Shaw is one of the 40 trailblazing contemporary artists featured in All Classical’s Artist Anthology. You can read her profile, written by Kristen Millares Young and photographed by Jason Quigley, here.


Nico Muhly in black and white
Photo courtesy of Muhly’s website

NICO MUHLY

New York-based composer Nico Muhly is at the forefront of American classical music. Best known for his acclaimed operas, including Two Boys and Marnie (both commissioned by The Metropolitan Opera), Muhly is an incredibly sought-after musical voice. In addition to The Met, Muhly has received commissions from Carnegie Hall, LA Phil, Tallis Scholars, and St. John’s College, Cambridge, among others. Muhly’s musical influences range from American minimalism to the Anglican choral tradition. In addition to writing works for the stage and concert hall, Muhly frequently collaborates with choreographer Benjamin Millepied. Adding to his extensive list of projects, Muhly has also scored several films and TV shows, including the Academy Award-winning The Reader, and the BBC mini-series Howards End.

Muhly is not afraid to address queer subject matter in his music, as seen in the opera, Two Boys, inspired by a true case involving a toxic teenage relationship and its tragic repercussions, and the oratorio Sentences, based on the life of Alan Turing. Rather, he leans into his commitment to spotlighting voices that have been historically underrepresented in classical music.


Jimmie Herrod facing left in black & white
Photo by Frankie Tresser

JIMMIE HERROD

Powerhouse vocalist and songwriter Jimmie Herrod exploded onto the musical scene as a finalist on “America’s Got Talent,” and the world has been smitten ever since. Herrod has been a featured soloist with acclaimed orchestras nationwide, including Oregon, San Francisco, and Houston. Perhaps most notably, Herrod was a soloist for the globally televised PBS “Joni Mitchell Songbook” concert at The Kennedy Center with the National Symphony Orchestra, where he shared the stage with Renée Fleming, Lalah Hathaway, Raul Midón, and Aoife O’Donovan.

As a musician, Herrod’s musical style traverses many genres, including jazz, pop, and funk. A longtime resident of Portland, Herrod regularly tours with Pink Martini as a featured vocalist in addition to headlining his own shows. Praised for “a voice like a beacon of hope,” Herrod has a gift for piercing the hearts of his listeners and is changing today’s musical soundscape for the better.

Herrod’s recent program on All Classical Radio with Cédric Hanriot, A New Foray Into Fauré, is available in the Audio Archive until June 24, 2024. Herrod is also one of the 40 trailblazing contemporary artists featured in All Classical’s Artist AnthologyYou can read his profile, written by Amber Flame and photographed by Frankie Tresser, here.


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