James Lee III

1975 -

James Lee III, professor of music theory and composition at Morgan State University, is an accomplished pianist and composer widely praised for his work in both areas. He is viewed by notable musicians of our time who are aware of his work as one of the most promising young contemporary composers.

Although James had only a passing interest in music as a child, the beginning of piano lessons at the age of twelve at the Edith B. Garrett School in Benton Harbor, Michigan, awakened an interest and talent that has become the driving force in his life. He started composing at age sixteen while still a student at Andrews Academy, where he twice won talent show competitions playing his own piano compositions. Following graduation from academy, he studied piano for two years with Peter Cooper at Andrews University.

He then transferred to the University of Michigan, where he earned a B.Mus. in piano performance in 1999; an M.Mus. in composition, with cognates in piano and music theory, in 2001; and a D.M.A. in composition, with cognates in music theory and church music, in 2005. His composition teachers at UM included Michael Daugherty, William Bolcom, Bright Sheng, Betsy Jolas, Susan Botti, C. Curtis-Smith, Erik Santos, and James Aikman.

Lee has been honored and won numerous awards in both piano performance and composing. In his early years these included playing in the Brown Bag Concert Series at the First Congregational Church (1997), Benton Harbor, Michigan, and winning the $5000 Award in the Monday Musical Competition (1998), also in Benton Harbor.

He was one of four winners in the 2001 Emerging African American Composers Competition Series sponsored by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. His winning work, Papa Lapa, movement one, was played by the University of Michigan Philharmonia Orchestra in February of that year at Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor and in April by the Detroit Symphony under the direction of Thomas Wilkins. Lee was also one of two winners in a choral composition competition for the Leigh Morris Chorale at Macalester College in Minnesota.

In the summer of 2002, Lee was accepted as a composition fellow at the Tanglewood Music Center in Lenox, Massachusetts, where he worked with Osvaldo Golijov, Michael Gandolfi, Stefan Asbury, Steven Mackey, Kaija Saariaho, and Augusta Reed Thomas. He worked with the Festival Chorus as it prepared and then premiered his "Psalm 61." In 2003 he was one of six composers to receive the Charles Ives Scholarship for music composition from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and was honored in a special ceremony held in New York City.

During the spring of 2003, Lee had two sacred songs published in Sing Unto the Lord: 99 New Songs, a collection featuring music by Seventh-day Adventist composers and songwriters. Another of his works, "When you feel a little blue," was included in the 2002 edition of Willis Patterson's The Anthology of African American Art Songs.

Numerous premieres of his works have occurred nationally and internationally in the past decade. One of the most notable and personally meaningful one for him was that of his doctoral dissertation, Beyond Rivers of Vision, in October 2005 by the National Symphony Orchestra, directed by Leonard Slatkin, at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

The three-movement work was scheduled for this performance two days after the score was shared with Slatkin by Lee in February of that year. A detailed article, "Vision Unveiled," by Kenneth Logan of what transpired as the work was prepared, performed, and then reviewed as well as insights about Lee was published in the 2006 Summer/Autumn issue of IAMA Notes.

Notable premieres since then have included "Into Sonic Horizons," at Morgan State University, February 2007; A Different Soldierís Tale, a four movement work, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, in Leonard Slatkin's inaugural concert as its new director, December 2008; and "Chuphshah! Harriet's Drive to Canaan," a work celebrating Harriet Tubman's life and challenges, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Marin Alsop, music director, September 2011.

In all of his writing, James Lee's aim is "to compose music to reach the inner soul of the listener that elevates them regardless of race and religious affiliation."


Sources: Biographies and music listings at jamesleeiii.com and ASCAP websites; A. Monise Hamilton, "Ascend the Mountain: A Walk with Dr. King," and sidebar, IAMA Notes, Spring 2000, 10; "Vision Unveiled," Kenneth Logan, Notes, 3-7; "Master Musicians," Debra Banks, James Lee III, Columbia Union Visitor, August 2009, 14,15; Other online sources.

Music by James Lee III

A Partial Listing . . . 

"Listen, Ye People of God" chorus and chamber ensemble, Andrews University, May 24,1996, revised 2002.

"The Appointed Time" string quartet, Chorus, SATB, a cappella, 1999

"Ascend the Mountain: A Walk with Dr. King" for organ, performed by Kenneth Logan, the AU annual Black History Weekend Celebration at Andrews University, February 11, 2000.

"Sonata for Violin and Piano" performed by John Littlejohn, at the University of Michigan, April 2000.

"Thoughts of Idle Hours" for soprano and piano, performed at the University of Michigan, April 17, 2000. Subsequent performance at the Society of Student Composersí Conference at Indiana University, March 1-3, 2001.

"Variations on Balm in Gilead" organ solo, performed by Marilyn Mason at the University of Michigan, June 2001.

"This Little Light of Mine" arranged for soprano and piano, Marcía Porter in McIntosh Theater at the UM School of Music, December 8, 2001. Included in Willis Patterson's The Anthology of African American Negro Spirituals.

"A Place for Godís People" orchestra, Andrews University (centennial celebration), February 23, 2002.

"Sonata for Cello and Piano" Anthony Elliott, professor of cello at the University of Michigan and James Lee III, April, 2002.

"Sympathy" for flute, mixed chorus, percussion, and harp, at Hamline University, May 16, 2002

"Psalm 61" a cappella chorus, composed and performed at Tanglewood by the festival chorus, July 28, 2002.

"The Appointed Time" string quartet, also composed and performed at Tanglewood by the Fromm Players, July 2002.

"From Me Flows Understanding" Plymouth, Michigan, November 8, 2002.

"Four Songs of Love and Death" voice and piano 2004/2008.


"Suicide's Note"


"No Regrets"

"Fantasia Ritmica" 2004.

"'My Lord, What a Mournin'" for mixed chorus and piano, premiered in Cape Town, South Africa, by Our Own Thing Chorale, Willis Patterson, director, 2005.

Concerto for Piano and Orchestra 2005.

"Let the Words of My Mouth" for chorus, SATB, a cappella, premiered at the General Youth Conference in Chattanooga, Tennessee, by the GYC choir directed by the composer, December 2005.

"The Day is at Hand" for chorus, SATB, brass quartet and piano, premiered at the General Youth Conference in Chattanooga, Tennessee, by the GYC choir directed by the composer, December 2005.

Beyond Rivers of Vision doctoral dissertation, three-movement for orchestra based on texts from Genesis 2 and 3, Daniel 10, and Revelation 22, 2005, premiered by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Leonard Slatkin conducting, October 2005.

"Into Sonic Horizons" flute, clarinet, piano, 2006.

"O Canto da Juriti" for mixed choir and piano, 2007.

"Come Unto Me" for choir, SATB, strings and timpani, 2007.

"Janelas" for choir, SATB, a cappella, 2007.

"Lamb of God, who liveth" for soprano soloist, chorus, SATB, organ & strings, 2007.

"O Canto da Juriti" for chorus, SATB, piano, 2007.

" Sonêto de Fidelidade" for chorus, SATB, piano, 2007.

A Different Soldier's Tale four-movement work for orchestra loosely based on stories the composer's grandfather, James Lee Sr., told him about his involvement in World War II, 2008, premiered by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Leonard Slatkin conducting, December 2008.

"...at that moment past midnight" for mixed choir a cappella, 2008.

"Four Sacred Motets" Chorus, SATB, a cappella, 2009

"A Clean Heart"

"Intreat Me Not to Leave Thee" (SATB divisi)

"Lord, Remember Me" (SATB divisi)

"The Spirit and the Bride" (SATB divisi)

"Alleluia" Chorus, SATB, a cappella, premiered by the Oakwood Aeolians, Lloyd Mallory, director, Huntsville, Alabama, May 2009.

"Twelve Preludes of the New Earth" piano, 2009.

"Scenes Upon Eternity's Edge" flute, violin, cello, piano, 2010.

Chuphshah! Harriet's Drive to Canaan a work celebrating Harriet Tubman's life and challenges, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Marin Alsop, conductor, September 2011.

"Songs of Prophetic Expectations" world premiere by Brandie Sutton, soprano, Merkin concert Hall, New York, NY October 2011.

"Sukkot Through Orion's Nebula" world premiere, The New World Symphony Orchestra, Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor, Miami, Florida, October 2011.

"Night Visions of Kippur" world premiere, Ritz Chamber Players, University of Washington Chamber Series, Seattle, February 2012.

"Sonata No. 2 for Piano" world premiere, Rochelle Sennet, University of Illinois Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, June 2012.