Musical Events for Black History Month

By Keegan Morris |

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Jazzmeia Horn, wearing a flowery headdress and a bright orange-red dress, stands in front of a tree trunk

Jazzmeia Horn

Honor Black artistry with an entire month of exciting musical events — operas, chamber concerts, jazz orchestras, broadcasts, and more!

Terence Blanchard’s Champion at Lyric Opera of Chicago

1/27-2/11 at Lyric Opera

Following 2022’s presentation of the composer’s Fire Shut Up in My Bones, Lyric stages Terence Blanchard’s first opera, the 2013 Champion. The work follows the life of real-life boxer Emile Griffith as he tries to navigate his athletic career while attempting to reconcile his sexuality.

Justin Austin, shortless and in boxing shorts, performs alongsided Paul Groves, in a suit, who gesticulates towards Austin while holding a cigar

Justin Austin as Young Emile Griffith and Paul Groves as Howie Albert (Photo: Michael Brosilow)

Jazzmeia Horn

2/2 and 2/3 at the Harris Theater; from $10

Grammy-nominated vocalist and composer Jazzmeia Horn gives two readily accessible performances at the Harris Theater — one in the venue’s approachable Mix at Six series and one in a family-friendly matinee.

We Insist: Max Roach 100 Birthday at DuSable Museum

2/2 at the DuSable Black History Museum and Education Center; free

American drummer and composer Max Roach was born in 1924; in part due to far-flung explorations with jazz luminaries from Dizzy Gillespie to Stan Getz, he is considered one of the great drummers in the genre’s esteemed history. This event pays tribute to Roach in a screening of the 2023 American Masters film Max Roach: The Drum Also Waltzes followed by a performance by drum-led Chicago outfit Jeremiah Collier and the REUP.

Christian McBride’s The Movement Revisited

2/2 at Chicago Symphony Orchestra; from $35

Host of NPR’s Jazz Night in America, multi-Grammy winning bandleader, composer, and bassist Christian McBride presents his triumphant jazz suite. The work pays tribute to Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, and President Barack Obama, with the backing of the Chicago Jazz Orchestra.

Met Opera: Anthony Davis’s X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X

Airing 2/3 on WFMT

Composer Anthony Davis’s debut opera premiered in 1986, but it’s finally reaching some of the world’s most prestigious stages. The Met presents X with a cast headlined by the fast-rising American baritone Will Liverman in the prestigious title role. Tune in for free on 98.7, or the WFMT app.

Will Liverman stands center stage dressed as Malcolm in a performance of "X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X"

Will Liverman as Malcolm in Anthony Davis’s X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X (Photo: Marty Sohl / Met Opera)

Great Performances: The Magic of Spirituals

Airing 2/3 on WTTW Prime

Revisit an iconic 1990 concert from two Black opera legends: Kathleen Battle and Jessye Norman. The tandem shared the Carnegie Hall stage to honor the musical legacy of spirituals.

Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras: Black Heritage Performing Arts Community Concert

2/10 at Emanuel Baptist Church; free

Violinist and composer Caitlin Edwards joins CYSO’s Accelerando Strings ensemble to share an excerpt from Joseph Bologne’s First Violin Concerto. The free concert concludes with other music by Black composers, including Angélique Kidjo, Florence Price, and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.

Caitlin Edwards holds a violin against a vivid red background

Caitlin Edwards (Photo: Orel Chollette)

Peter Jericho & MGeni: Love Like This 

2/14 at the Old Town School of Folk Music; free (donation suggested)

A Black History Month celebration that also coincides with Valentine’s Day! Join Peter Jericho — whose Cameroonian heritage lends the self-description “Douala Boy born in Chicago but raised by the world” — for an evening that fuses musical traditions spanning continents and genres.

Nkeiru Okoye: We’ve Got Our Eye on You

2/16-2/25 at City Lit Theater; $30

Nkeiru Okoye’s 2015 chamber opera mines Greek myth, Monty Python, and more, for a unique and humorous sendup of hookup culture. Thompson Street Opera shares a rare opportunity to take in the work of one of today’s most respected opera composers. Okoye’s acclaimed folk opera Harriet Tubman: When I Crossed that Line to Freedom was presented in Chicago by South Shore Opera Company in 2016.

Nkeiru Okoye smiles, wearing a plum leather jacket, against a grey background

Nkeiru Okoye (Photo: Nkeiru Okoye)

Red Clay Dance Company presents Afro-Caribbean Dance

2/20 at Douglass Library; free

Chicago’s Red Clay Dance Company specializes in Afro-contemporary dance. In this free interactive workshop at Douglass Library, the ensemble will showcase dance traditions emerging from the African diaspora.

Black Moon Trio: Spilling Over

2/22 at UChicago’s Logan Center for the Arts; free

Inspired by the work of visual artist Bob Thompson, recently founded Chicago-based Black Moon Trio shares music by Nina Simone, Billy Strayhorn, Daniel Bernard Roumain, and more in a performance presented with visuals provided by UChicago’s Smart Museum of Art.

Best of Studs Terkel: Mahalia Jackson in Concert

Airing 2/23 on WFMT

Gospel music legend Mahalia Jackson was one of Studs Terkel’s best loved artists, friends, and guests. Hear this rapturous 1957 Chicago performance for free on 98.7, or the WFMT app.

Mahalia Jackson performs in the Royal Concertgebouw in Amsterdam

Imani Winds: Black and Brown

2/24 at Nichols Concert Hall; $30

Imani Winds is one of classical music’s great catalysts, tireless in its dedication to honoring and pushing forward historically excluded voices. The ensemble takes the Nichols stage in Evanston for a concert celebrating composers of color, including music by Wayne Shorter, Andy Akiho, Paquito D’Rivera, and more.

Imani Winds (Photo: Shervin Lainez)

Magic of Motown

2/24 at the Auditorium Theatre; from $45

Channel some of the 20th century’s most iconic voices — think Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross — in a performance that pays tribute to the watershed Black-owned and founded music label… and the long shadow the movement continues to cast today.

Ella & Louis Reimagined: A Journey Through Black History Month

2/29 at Epiphany Center for the Arts; $20

Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong were two of the greatest figures in 20th century music, so it’s fortunate the two collaborated numerous times over the years. Two Chicago-area performers — Alysha Monique and Bobby Wonderfull — channel the dynamic duo and in a heartfelt, spirit-raising concert.