As a multi-genre recording artist and instrumentalist, Damien Sneed is a pianist, vocalist, organist, composer, conductor, arranger, producer, and arts educator whose work spans multiple genres. He has worked with jazz, classical, pop, and R&B legends, including the late Aretha Franklin and Jessye Norman, which he is featured on Norman’s final recording, Bound For The Promised Land on Albany Records. He also worked with Wynton Marsalis, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, Ashford & Simpson, J’Nai Bridges, Lawrence Brownlee, Brandie Inez Sutton and many others. Sneed has served as music director for Grammy Award-winning gospel artists The Clark Sisters, Richard Smallwood, Donnie McClurkin, Hezekiah Walker, Marvin Sapp, Karen Clark Sheard, Dorinda Clark-Cole and Kim Burrell, among others. Sneed is a 2020 Dove Award winner and 2021 NAACP Image Award winner for his work as a featured producer and writer on the Clark Sisters’ newest project, “The Return”, released on March 13, 2020.
In January 2020, he embarked on his 40-city North American tour, “We Shall Overcome: A Celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., featuring Damien Sneed.” The 2020 tour kicked off on Tuesday, January 14, 2020, at Joe’s Pub in New York, NY, and made stops at concert halls and universities in the U.S. and Canada. The tour concluded on Wednesday, March 11, 2020, at the College of Southern Idaho Fine Arts Center in Twin Falls, ID. In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Sneed brought his brand of classical, jazz, and sanctified soul to venues across the country during Dr. King’s holiday, Black History Month, and Women’s Month. “We Shall Overcome” is a joyous celebration reflecting on the triumphant and victorious moments during our history.
In January 2020, Sneed released his debut classical album, Classically Harlem and We Shall Overcome Deluxe on his boutique label, LeChateau Earl Records, which was established in 2009 to reflect his varied musical interests. Previous recordings include Jazz In Manhattan (September 2019), The Three Sides of Damien Sneed: Classical, Jazz and Sanctified Soul (July 2018), Broken To Minister: The Deluxe Edition (March 2015), Spiritual Sketches (June 2013), and Introspections LIVE (January 2010).
Sneed is the founder and artistic director of Chorale Le Chateau, which has gained a global reputation for its vivid interpretations of vocal literature, from Renaissance period pieces to art songs to jazz, spirituals, gospel, and avant-garde contemporary music. He is featured on the recording of Wynton Marsalis’ Abyssinian Mass as a conductor, with Marsalis, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and Chorale Le Chateau.
Sneed also has performed at important national and international events, including the 2012 Olympics in London and activities related to the inauguration of President Barack Obama. Sneed performed in Washington, DC, at “A Celebration of America” at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Art’s Eisenhower Theater on the eve of President Obama’s inauguration and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in 2013. The event was hosted by Angela Bassett, Courtney Vance, and Wynton Marsalis and retired United States Supreme Court Chief Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. In addition, in 2008, he conducted the world premiere of Wynton Marsalis’ Abyssinian Mass with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and a 150-voice choir. He has also conducted the Mass in London and on a 16-city U.S. tour.
An acclaimed artist with a global reach, Sneed has performed in Europe, Japan, the U.S. Virgin Islands, South America, Africa and over 42 states in the United States. He has performed with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, the Minneapolis Symphony, Darin Atwater and Soulful Symphony, Opera Ebony and Opera Noire. He has collaborated with award-winning opera singer Jessye Norman on several performances. Sneed arranged five spirituals, chosen by Norman in honor of President Abraham Lincoln, and accompanied her in the performance of them at the Grand Reopening of Ford’s Theater in Washington, DC on February 11, 2009. The event, which was a part of the national Lincoln Bicentennial Celebration, was attended by President and First Lady Obama. The event also featured George Lucas, James Earl Jones, Nancy Pelosi, Katie Couric, Joshua Bell, Audra McDonald, and Jeffrey Wright. In November 2010, he had his debut at Avery Fisher Hall at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York, NY, accompanying Norman for a gala performance. In 2012, Sneed accompanied Norman for her performances at the International AIDS Conference Gala held at the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington, DC, and at the 10th Annual Jessye Norman School of the Arts Fundraising Gala at Augusta State University in Georgia.
March 13, 2010, marked Sneed’s solo classical piano debut at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall, where he also accompanied violinist, Joung Hoon Song, from the New England Conservatory faculty, and rising operatic soprano Dusica Bijelic. On December 12, 2012, Sneed made his Carnegie Hall debut as a featured soloist in the work, Fier Herzog for Piano and Orchestra by composer Diogo Pereira.
Sneed has been collaborating with the rising international opera star Lawrence Brownlee for live performances and recordings. At his recital debut at Carnegie Hall, Brownlee performed spirituals arranged by Sneed. In March and April of 2013, Sneed was featured with Brownlee in several recitals of arias, art songs and spirituals at venues around the country, including the Cincinnati College-Conservatory in Ohio and the Asheville Opera in North Carolina. In January 2014, Sneed and Brownlee were featured in the Allen Room for Lincoln Center’s American Songbook, where they performed music from their project, Spiritual Sketches, which was produced by Sneed and released by his independent label, LeChateau Earl Records. The New York Times’ film and music critic, Stephen Holden, lauded Sneed and Brownlee for their resounding performance, writing that Sneed’s fresh arrangements turned the traditional gospel tunes into “concert art songs.”
Sneed has conducted and arranged music for several choral groups and orchestras. He was the musical director of Opera Noire in 2007. In 2008, he conducted and arranged music for a combined student orchestra of The Juilliard School and Manhattan School of Music, commemorating Black History Month. On March 8, 2013, Sneed was featured as conductor of the premiere of Nkeiru Okoye’s new opera, Harriet Tubman, at the Recital Hall at the University at Albany, State University of New York, and, in June, he was guest conductor of the University of South Carolina Symphony Orchestra. He also was an accompanist for the Boys Choir of Harlem and the Oakwood College Aeolians. He founded and directs Chorale LeChateau, a choral group that has gained a global reputation for its vivid interpretations of vocal literature, from Renaissance period pieces to art songs to jazz, spirituals, gospel, and avant-garde contemporary music. Members hail from various parts of the world and come from various performing arts institutions and venues such as The Juilliard School, The Metropolitan Opera, Howard University, Yale University, The City University of New York and more. Ensemble members include professionals, GRAMMY® Award winners, college professors, students and ministers. Chorale LeChateau has performed in concerts and other events around the world.
The composer and pianist recently premiered his new opera, “We Shall Overcome -- Our Journey: 400 Years from Africa to Jamestown,” at Carnegie Hall’s Isaac Stern Auditorium/Perelman Stage for the Sphinx Organization Performance and Gala, sponsored by JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Robert F. Smith. Sneed also wrote the libretto, which showcases musical styles from the African American diaspora from African rhythms to spirituals to gospel to jazz, all interwoven in the classical genre. He was joined by fellow Sphinx Medal of Excellence recipients and Metropolitan Opera’s J’Nai Bridges (mezzo-soprano) and Will Liverman (baritone), along with Sneed’s chorus, Chorale Le Chateau, and the Sphinx Virtuosi Orchestra, who brought to life his ground-breaking opera during the evening’s finale performance.
During the 2018 – 2019 season, Sneed served as music director, composer in residence, and cover conductor for the staff of the Houston Grand Opera. Sneed was also commissioned to compose a new chamber opera titled MARIAN’S SONG about the life of Marian Anderson for Houston Grand Opera, which had its world premiere on March 5, 2020, at the Cullen Theater at the Wortham Center with a newly filmed version premiering on April 30, 2021. The Library of Congress commissioned Sneed to compose a brief solo piano work, “Sequestered Thoughts”, for its Boccaccio Project in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which premiered online on June 15, 2020.
Sneed is featured in the award-winning PBS documentary Everyone Has a Place, which stars Wynton Marsalis. The film captures Sneed’s journey as the musical conductor of the historic performance of Marsalis’ “Abyssinian Mass.” The film features the world-renowned Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and Sneed’s 70-piece Chorale LeChateau. Sneed is also featured in Aaron Dworkin’s book, The Entrepreneurial Artist: Lessons from Highly Successful Creatives.
A recipient of a 2014 Sphinx Medal of Excellence and a graduate of John S. Davidson Fine Arts School in his hometown of Augusta, GA., Sneed studied at some of the finest conservatories and universities, including Howard University, where he earned a Bachelor of Music – Piano Performance; the Peabody Conservatory of Johns Hopkins University; New York University, where he earned a Master of Music in Music Technology: Scoring for Film and Multimedia; and the Manhattan School of Music. Sneed will also graduate with his doctorate in Orchestral Conducting from USC in May 2021.
Sneed is currently a faculty member of the Manhattan School of Music, where he teaches graduate-level courses in conducting, African American Music History, a singer/songwriter ensemble, a gospel music ensemble, and private lessons in piano, voice, and composition. He recently joined the esteemed faculty of Michigan State University as artist-in-residence for the 2020 – 2021 school year. Sneed will work with Wharton Center and the MSU College of Music, helping to bring social impact programming to both institutions while advancing progress in diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. He was a member of the faculty at the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and Nyack College. His other professional affiliations have included The Juilliard School as a staff accompanist, Jazz at Lincoln Center as an artistic consultant, and the City University of New York (CUNY) as a professor of music. In 2015, Sneed established the Damien Sneed Performing Arts Institute, a division of the Damien Sneed Foundation.
On Sunday, September 24th, 2019, Sneed performed at the Metropolitan Opera for the memorial tribute to his mentor Jessye Norman. He composed music for and accompanied the following artists at the piano: J’Nai Bridges, Latonia Moore, Leah Hawkins and Metropolitan Opera Chorus conducted by Maestro Donald Palumbo. The afternoon also included performances by Met artists Lise Davidsen, and Eric Owens; the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Speakers were Anna Deavere Smith, Gloria Steinem, Clive Gillinson, Darren Walker, Peter Gelb, and the French former Minister of Culture Jack Lang. The memorial event was produced by the Metropolitan Opera and supported by the Ford Foundation.
On September 15, 2020, Sneed performed on BLACK OPERA’s Jessye Norman 75th Birthday virtual gala as Ms. Norman’s mentee and artistic collaborator. The 90-minute virtual gala celebrated Ms. Norman’s life and artistry with countless performances and dedications from across the country, as well as performances filmed on-site in the Winter Garden at Brookfield Place. Kenneth Overton hosted remembrances from some of Ms. Norman’s notable operatic colleagues including Kennedy Center Honors recipients Martina Arroyo and Grace Bumbry, legendary opera singers George Shirley and Simon Estes; and performances from opera stars J’Nai Bridges, Measha Brueggergosman, Karen Slack, Russell Thomas, Chauncey Packer, Krysty Swann, Audrey DuBois-Harris, Sidney Outlaw, Brandie Sutton, Justin Austin, and Laquita Mitchell. The tribute program also included a performance from the Dance Theatre of Harlem. Also, appearances were from Anna Deavere Smith, Harolyn Blackwell, Grammy-nominated Gospel composer, Richard Smallwood; Artistic Director Emerita of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Judith Jamison; Darren Walker (Ford Foundation, President); Alicia Hall Moran; Grammy-Award winning composer Richard Danielpour, and Broadway and Opera star Harolyn Blackwell.
Alvin Ailey Dance Theater commissioned Sneed to create an original score for Testament, a contemporary response to the 60th Anniversary of Revelations for the dance company’s first virtual season which premiered on December 17, 2020. He was commissioned by Opera Theatre of Saint Louisto compose a chamber opera, The Tongue & The Lash, with libretto by Karen Chilton imagining a post-debate conversation between James Baldwin and William Buckley which premiered on June 10, 2021. Other highlights of the 2020 – 2022 seasons included: the world premiere of his ASCAP Kingsford Commission composition in Fall 2021, the world premiere of his March on Washington Film Festival commission celebrating Pauli Murray on October 4, 2021, an IMG Artists’ holiday tour ‘Joy To The World: A Christmas Musical Journey’ from December 1 – 12, 2021, the Flint Symphony Orchestra’s Holiday Pops concert as guest conductor on December 18, 2021 and an Aretha Franklin Tribute Tour from February 1 – March 20, 2022 featuring Damien Sneed with special guest artists Valerie Simpson and Karen Clark Sheard.
In 2022, Sneed was recently commissioned by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis to compose a reimagined adapation of Scott Joplin’s Treemonisha which will premiere on May 20, 2023 to open OTSL’s season. On June 17, 2022, Sneed will conduct Nathaniel Dett’s Ordering of Moses at Cathedral of Saint John the Divine with a 50-piece orchestra and his 75-piece choral group, Chorale Le Chateau, to commemorate the Harlem Renaissance centennial featuring soloists Brandie Inez Sutton, Lucia Bradford, Chauncey Packer, Kenneth Overton and Janinah Burnett with Kent Tritle on pipe organ and Terrance McKnight as host. He will conduct the Flint Symphony Orchestra several times during the 2022 – 2023 season for their Pops concerts featuring Patti Austin and others. Sneed also has performances with Denyce Graves, Lawrence Brownlee, Morris Robinson and other Metropolitan Opera singers during the upcoming 2022 – 2023 season as well as a tour ‘Our Song Our Story’ which is an evening of operatic arias, art songs and spirituals featuring Justin Austin, Raehann Bryce-Davis and Brandie Sutton accompanied by a string quartet with Damien Sneed on piano.