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Lenora Zenzalai Helm

LENORA ZENZALAI HELM, jazz vocal musician, composer, lyricist, arranger, teaching artist, former U.S. Jazz Ambassador (1998-99) and MacDowell Colony Composer Fellow is a native of Chicago, Illinois.

She was the first African-American woman to graduate from Berklee College of Music with a B.M. in Film Music Scoring/Voice, a degree she earned in just three years. Helm earned her Master of Music degree in Jazz Performance from East Carolina University in Greenville, NC, and in doing so, an induction into the prestigious music honor society, Pi Kappa Lambda and the Golden Key International Honor Society for academic excellence.

Additionally, Helm is the first African-American woman to be awarded the Chamber Music America/Doris Duke New Works: Creation and Presentation award for jazz composers. Helm’s work as a leading jazz vocal musician earned her the accolade “…the voice of her generation...” from Jazziz Magazine. She just released her sixth solo recording in October, 2011, titled "I Love Myself When I'm Laughing, And Then Again When I'm Looking Mean And Impressive," the follow-up to the 2009 release, "Chronicles of a Butterfly: A Story of Transformation," produced by renowned saxophonist Branford Marsalis.

Since 2005, Helm is a Visiting Instructor in the Jazz Studies and Voice Departments, of the Music Department at North Carolina Central University (NCCU) in Durham, North Carolina teaching jazz and classical voice and co-directing their highly acclaimed NCCU Vocal Jazz Ensemble. Helm’s many achievements in music have spanned 25 years garnering her inclusion as a subject of biographical record for the 2005 through 2009 editions of Who’s Who in America, Who’s Who in American Women and Who’s Who in the World.

Her discography includes six solo recordings of her own (five commercially available) which include renowned artists such as Ron Carter, Stanley Cowell, Dave Liebman, Mulgrew Miller and Branford Marsalis. Additionally, she appears as a featured guest on the recordings of Donald Brown, Antonio Hart, and Andrew Hill.

Helm earned her traveling and performing stripes on the road with many R&B, Pop and Jazz artists including Freddie Jackson, Michael Franks and Mexican pop star, Emmanuel. She was a member of the neo-soul vocal group SEPIA, with founder Marlon Saunders, Arif St. Michael and Rosa Russ, garnering an acclaimed international release, Absence of Pain. With SEPIA, Lenora also recorded with Japan’s Jiro Yoshida, French group, Sixun and many others.

Stretching her vocal repertoire beyond Jazz, R&B, and Pop, Helm won, by audition, key roles as a principal Soprano, performing classical repertoire with the Aquarius Opera Workshop in several seasons in New York City and with the Crittenden Opera Studio in Washington DC, under the direction of Richard Crittenden. Lenora studied Indian classical voice at the Jazz India Vocal Institute in Mumbai, India with Dhanashree Pandit Rai, resulting in in her own recorded compositions of Indian Classical & Jazz vocal collaborations.

Highlights of other vocal achievements include her recorded and live vocal performances with Dance Theatre of Harlem’s tour of “St. Louis Woman: A Blues Ballet.” Helm is on the music faculty at North Carolina Central University in Durham, NC teaching jazz vocal performance in NCCU’s prestigious Jazz Studies program, and co-directing their NCCU Vocal Jazz Ensemble. Learn more about her composer, arts educator, and performance awards online at .