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Harriet Tubman: When I Crossed That Line to Freedom


Noted Composer and librettist Nkeiru Okoye, a native New Yorker of African American and Nigerian descent, presents scenes from her new folk opera Harriet Tubman: When I Crossed That Line to Freedom that tells the personal, family story of the legendary Underground Railroad conductor. The performance features a string quintet from the Harlem Chamber Players.

Harriet Tubman: When I Crossed That Line to Freedom is a two act theatrical work that tells of how a young girl born in slavery, becomes Harriet Tubman, the legendary Underground Railroad conductor. Based on recent Tubman biographies, the story is narrated and told in the context of Tubman’s tight-knit family of lively characters. Harriet Tubman carries the universal themes of sisterhood, courage, sacrifice and doing what is necessary to keep a family together. Moreover it is a heartwarming tale of two sisters vowing that nothing but death will separate them, despite the slavery threatening to tear them apart.
The opera is written for 5 lead roles (soprano, soubrette, contralto, tenor, bass-baritone) and will include 5-10 chorus/supporting roles, depending on how the work develops. The work is also being simultaneously conceived and orchestrated in a reduced touring version ideal for performances in a variety of educational and municipal venues.



A native New Yorker of African American and Nigerian descent, Nkeiru Okoye has had her music performed on four continents. Okoye’s penchant for infusing popular and non-Western influences in a ‘classical’ framework shows in her most performed works, SONGS OF HARRIET TUBMAN (2007), PHILLIS WHEATLEY (2005, commissioned by the Boston Landmarks Orchestra, and recorded by the Moscow Symphony), VOICES SHOUTING OUT (2002); RUTH: an Orchestral Choreopoem, (1998); THE GENESIS (1997) and AFRICAN SKETCHES. Okoye’s orchestral works have been performed by the Philadelphia, Detroit, St. Louis, Virginia, Grand Rapids, Indianapolis, Mississippi, Richmond, New Jersey Chamber, Cambridge Symphony, Western Piedmont, Rutgers University, Central Jersey, Hopkins, and New Horizons Symphony orchestras, amongst others. Okoye has gotten awards, commissions and commendations from MEET THE COMPOSER, MetLife Creative Connections, John Duffy Composer Institute, Composer’s Collaborative, Inc., Yvar Mikhashov Trust for New Music (1999); and numerous awards by the NAACP. Okoye is a frequent guest lecturer and panelist. In 2005, Okoye was a composer mentor at the University of Ghana for the International Society of Contemporary Music’s World New Music Days. In 2006, she was named a British American Project Fellow. In 2007, Okoye was honored at Nigeria’s 40under40 ceremony, in Lagos. Nkeiru Okoye (in KEAR roo oh KOY yeh) has BM in composition from Oberlin Conservatory of Music, and an MA and a Ph.D. in theory and composition from Rutgers University. In addition to being a composer, Dr. Okoye is a soft sculpture artist/creator of the “Canbie Collection” of multicultural dolls, which may be found in museums and galleries nationwide, most notably the Smithsonian.

Presented in collaboration with American Opera ProjectsSupported through a generous grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Art Works.