Chicago Voices

Chicago Voices was a ground-breaking initiative that celebrated the stories of Chicago’s communities and the diversity of the city’s vocal traditions. Through Chicago Voices, Lyric expanded the traditional role of an opera company within the cultural ecosystem of its city, and engaged audiences through participatory arts experiences and dynamic cross-genre programming.

The initiative spanned two years, 2016-2018, and included five signature components.

Community-created Performances

Community-created Performances was a multi-year program presented in partnership with the Chicago Public Library. Participating community groups throughout Chicago, from diverse backgrounds and experiences, developed original works that were creatively driven by the participants, and supported by Lyric professional artists and staff.

Chicago Voices Gala Concert

Chicago Voices Gala Concert was a one-night-only, multi-genre concert at the Lyric Opera House that took place on February 4, 2017. Vocalists paid tribute to the city's deep musical traditions, and included top singers in blues, jazz, rock, folk, hip-hop, gospel, and classical music. Curated by American soprano and Lyric's Special Projects Advisor Renée Fleming, the Gala Concert was shaped by an advisory panel that included pianist-composer Herbie Hancock, jazz vocalist Kurt Elling, and folk singer-songwriter John Prine. The evening featured performances and musical collaborations by Shemekia Copeland, Matthew Polenzani, John Prine, The Handsome Family, Lupe Fiasco, and Jesse Jackson, amongst others. 

Learn more about the Chicago Voices Gala Concert 

Expert Panels and Master Classes

Expert Panels and Master Classes was a multi-day series of symposia and master classes for aspiring singers, vocal teachers and music enthusiasts offered in partnership with Columbia College Chicago. Many performers from the Chicago Voices Gala Concert took part in panel discussions, master classes, lectures and demonstrations that delved into vocal health, music business, self-marketing and promotion, and career planning.

Chicago Voices Fest

Chicago Voices Fest, a series of events spanning several months, provided four innovative ways for Chicago residents to take part in Chicago Voices.

VIEW: VIEW was an exhibition led by photographers that featured retrospective images of iconic and contemporary Chicago singers.

TALK: TALK was a three-part speaker series paired with live performances at the Chicago History Museum. TALK focused on preeminent Chicago vocalists.

SING: SING was an invitation for Chicagoans to capture their individual vocal stylings on video and share their performances on the Chicago Voices website. To kick-off the initiative, a Chicago Voices mobile video van visited iconic Chicago locations, raising awareness of the program, and providing resources for every Chicagoan to participate.Chicago Voices also involved thousands of students from Chicago Public Schools through a school-based version of SING. This included school-based song recording sessions, and a songwriting workshop that offered high school students an opportunity to record original songs in a professional recording studio.

LIVE!: LIVE! was a series of collaborations with music clubs and performance venues throughout the city that promoted and showcased outstanding local singers.

The Message in the Music

In February 2018, Lyric Unlimited, in partnership with Foundations of Music, created an innovative program for students in grades 3-6 to explore Chicago’s rich vocal music heritage of jazz, blues, gospel, hip-hop, and classical music, and how artists use their voices to convey stories and emotion. The Message in the Music included online classroom resources, in-school teaching artist lessons, and culminated in a live, multi-genre performance at the Chicago History Museum featuring four professional vocalists and a live band. The entire program was provided free of charge to Chicago Public Schools.

Chicago Voices Sponsors

Lead Sponsor

Liz Stiffel

Supporting Sponsor

J. Thomas Hurvis

Lead Corporate Sponsor

Diamond Record Sponsors

The Jacob and Rosaline Cohn Foundation

The Crown Family

Brent and Katie Gledhill

John D. and Alexandra C. Nichols

Mr. and Mrs. Patrick G. Ryan

Platinum Record Sponsors

Rita & Herbert Z. Gold Charitable Trust

Mr. and Mrs. J. Christopher Reyes

Gold Record Sponsors

Mr. and Mrs. Michael P. Cole

Hal Coon

Eisen Family Foundation

The Eloise Susanna Gale Foundation
in honor of Renée Fleming

Karen Z. Gray-Krehbiel and John H. Krehbiel, Jr.

Mr. and Mrs. William A. Osborn

Matt and Carrie Parr

Carl and Marilyn Thoma

Robert L. Turner
in honor of Renée Fleming

Make it Better Media

Additional Support

Marsha Cruzan and Tom McGinnis

Mr. and Mrs. Charles Huebner


Annie and Gregory K. Jones and Family

Mr. and Mrs. Lester Knight III


Lavin Family Foundation


Mr. and Mrs. Todd D. Mitchell

Sylvia Neil and Daniel Fischel

Kenneth R. Norgan

Sharon and Lee Oberlander

Cherryl T. Thomas

Chicago Voices is made possible with support from

J. Thomas Hurvis


This project is partially supported by

Eisen Family Foundation

Lyric Unlimited - Learning & Creative Engagement Sponsors

Anonymous Donor

Nancy W. Knowles Student and Family Performances Fund

Dr. Scholl Foundation

BMO Harris Bank Logo

Walter Family Foundation

The Richard P. & Susan Kiphart Family

Shure Charitable Trust

Eisen Family Foundation

Robert and Evelyn McCullen

Marsha Serlin and Jerry Sloan

Charles and M.R. Shapiro Foundation, Inc.

Terry J. Medhurst

Mazza Foundation

Buehler Family Foundation

Wintrust Community Banks

Helen Brach Foundation

The Siragusa Family Foundation

Polk Bros. Foundation

Lloyd A. Fry Foundation

Raynette and Ned Boshell

John and Rosemary Brown Family Foundation

John Hart and Carol Prins

The Simon Family Foundation

Photos: Jaclyn Simpson, Cory Weaver