Chicago Voices was a ground-breaking, two-year Lyric Unlimited initiative celebrating 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, engaging audiences through participatory arts experiences and dynamic cross-genre programming. 

The initiative spanned two years and included four signature components:

Community Created Performances

Community Created Performances, a multi-year community engagement program presented in partnership with the Chicago Public Library. Community Created Performances are original music theater works created and performed by community groups using a core element of opera: storytelling through song. Participating groups throughout Chicago, regardless of background or experience, created and developed these original works which were creatively driven by the participants and  supported by Lyric Opera professional artists and staff.

Chicago Voices Gala Concert

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

Expert Panels and Master Classes

Expert Panels and Masterclasses, offered in partnership with Columbia College Chicago, was a multi-day series of symposia and master classes for aspiring singers, vocal teachers and music enthusiasts presented in conjunction with the Chicago Voices Gala Concert. Many of the vocalists featured on the Gala Concert took part in panel discussions, master classes, lecture/demonstrations discussing vocal health and medicine, music business, self-marketing and promotion, social media, and career planning.

Chicago Voices Fest

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

VIEW: An exhibition by leading photographers, featuring retrospective images of iconic Chicago singers both historic and contemporary.

TALK: A three-part speaker series paired with live performances at the Chicago History Museum focusing on preeminent Chicago vocalists past and present.

SING: 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 will visit iconic Chicago locations, raising awareness of the initiative and providing resources for every Chicagoan to participate.

LIVE!: A series of collaborations with music clubs and performance venues throughout the city to promote and highlight outstanding local singers in a variety of genres.

In addition to the components already described, Chicago Voices involved thousands of students in Chicago Public Schools through a school-based version of SING; an online learning unit focusing on great singers from Chicago’s past and present; and songwriting workshops giving high school students an opportunity to share their stories and experiences through the art of songwriting. 


There are currently no scheduled performances for the remainder of the 2018/19 season. 

Chicago Voices is made possible by major support from J. Thomas Hurvis and Parent Power Chicago, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the Ford Foundation. This project is partially supported by The Chicago Community Trust, an IncentOvate Grant from the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs & Special Events, and the Eisen Family Foundation.

Chicago Voices Fest is made possible by support from J. Thomas Hurvis, Parent Power Chicago, and Bank of America.