Billy Childs Jazz Chamber Ensemble feat. Dianne Reeves
Enlightened Souls

Billy Childs Jazz Chamber Ensemble & Dianne Reeves

Enlightened Souls


In the fall of 1963, five courageous African-American students integrated Duke University. For the fiftieth anniversary, Duke Performances commissioned three-time GRAMMY winner Billy Childs to write a major new song cycle, Enlightened Souls. On the final weekend of the University’s nine-month long celebration, Enlightened Souls premiered on October 4, 2013.

A musical polymath, Childs is a jazz pianist, composer, and arranger who won a 2009 Guggenheim Fellowship. His main vehicle, the 10-piece Jazz Chamber Ensemble, is an ingenious melding of jazz combo and classical string quartet.

For the commemorative concert, Childs and his ensemble were joined by four-time GRAMMY winner Dianne Reeves, whom The Seattle Times calls the “most compelling vocalist in jazz.” To round off a night that weaved together classical music and American jazz rhythms, the Ying Quartet, an acclaimed string quartet, also accompanied the ensemble. The group came together on the stage of the revamped Baldwin Auditorium to celebrate the brave students who changed the community and the country fifty years ago.

“Los Angeles-based pianist/composer Billy Childs mixes the intimacy of classical European sounds with the spontaneity of American jazz in a creative style he terms Jazz-Chamber Music.”

All About Jazz

Photos by Michael Zirkle


When I was approached, a year ago, about composing a piece for Duke University, commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of its integration, I was humbled by the seriousness of this undertaking. I felt that the best way to acknowledge this historical event would be to take certain poetry and set it to music; this story, it seemed to me, needed to be represented with words combined with music.

I wanted the story of the piece to have a kind of arc, at least in the tone, so that the listening experience could be hopefully like a journey. So I chose three poems that — in my mind — look at the subject of integration from three different vantage points. The first poem, “The White House,” by Claude McKay, deals with the issue of exclusion, the feeling of being exempted from privilege because of one’s blackness. The second poem, written by Diana Di Prima, “(Revolutionary Letter #20),” talks about the desire for equality, where all people are free to explore the range of their thoughts, unencumbered. The third poem, untitled by Walter Benton, concludes that because there is so much pain and injustice in the world, the need for love is more pressing than ever.

I am especially proud and excited to be sharing the stage with some of the finest musicians on the planet! Dianne Reeves and I have been making music since 1977 and I can’t think of a singer I’d rather have premiering this piece on such an important occasion. She is quite simply the greatest jazz singer living today. The same goes for the rest of the musicians: Brian Blade, Bob Sheppard, Larry Koonse, Carol Robbins, Hans Glawischnig, and the incredible Yang Quartet.

I also want to thank and acknowledge the Duke alums: Wilhelmina Reuben-Cooke, Nathaniel White, Gene Kendel, Mary Mitchell Harris, and Cassandra Smith Rush. My conversation with Ms. Cooke, Mr. White, and Mr. Kendall have been enlightening, educational, and inspirational. You are truly enlightened souls. Thanks also to Aaron Greenwald and everyone at Duke Performances.

— Billy Childs


Billy Childs, piano
Bob Sheppard, saxophones/flute
Carol Robbins, harp
Larry Koonse, guitar
Hans Glawischnig, bass
Brian Blade, drums
with special guests:
Dianne Reeves, vocals
& Ying Quartet, string quartet

Made possible, in part, with support from the N.C. Arts Council, a division of the Department of Cultural Resources; the Office of the President of Duke University; and the 50 Years of Black Students at Duke University Executive Committee.


  • Duke Arts, The Gravity of Billy Childs’ Enlightened Souls
  • CVNC, Enlightened Souls: A Long Overdue Celebration at Duke University