Featured image for post: Spotlight: Composer in Residence Marcus Norris

Spotlight: Composer in Residence Marcus Norris

Donna Milanovich Composer in Residence Marcus Norris has been making MAJOR waves!


Marcus Norris


Marcus was chosen as a composer in residence in 2021, alongside Jonathan Bingham and Reinaldo Moya. The program, named after former Executive Director Donna Milanovich, is part of an ongoing effort to champion the voices and talents of emerging artists of color. Three composers in residence were chosen for a three-year program from 2021-2024, which includes:

  • – Performance of one newly composed chamber work and one newly composed symphonic work by the Chicago Philharmonic in the organization’s symphonic and chamber series within the 3-year residency.
  • – A seat on the Chicago Philharmonic’s board-elected Artistic Programming and Policies Committee, providing input and sharing in the organization’s artistic planning for the duration of the residency.
  • – Development opportunities with Chicago Philharmonic Artistic Director and Principal Conductor Scott Speck, as well as opportunities to connect with other conductors, composers, and orchestral organizations.
Orchestration for Beyoncé in Dubai 2023

Beyonce in Dubai

Dr. Marcus Norris has also recently written several orchestrations for Beyonce’s concert in Dubai, marking the grand opening of luxury hotel Atlantis The Royal.


“Beyoncé is an inspiration on all fronts: Vision, work ethic, musicianship, discipline, kindness in leadership. The world hasn’t seen anything like her.” – Marcus Norris


Marcus Norris World Premiere: Skepticism for Saviors and Scrutiny for Saints

Kishi Bashi 2.5×1.75@2xOn April 15, Dr. Marcus Norris returns to work with Chicago Philharmonic for the World Premiere of a new piece! Skepticism for Saviors and Scrutiny for Saints will open a Chicago Philharmonic concert with singer/songwriter/violinist Kishi Bashi at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, led by Maestro Scott Speck.


In this powerful concert, award-winning multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Kishi Bashi explores Executive Order 9066, which saw the incarceration of thousands of innocent Japanese Americans during the Second World War. This immersive, multimedia experience with Kishi Bashi and the full Chicago Philharmonic orchestra features photography by Dorothea Lange and the filmmaking expertise of Director JJ Gerber. Get your tickets now.


The Factotum: Lyric Opera Chicago, Will Liverman, and DJ King Rico

FactotumDr. Marcus Norris worked with Will Liverman and DJ King Rico to orchestrate the World Premiere of the soul opera The Factotum, opening in February 2023 at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance. Loosely inspired by the popular opera The Barber of Seville and its iconic aria Largo al factotum (think “Figaro! Figaro! Figaro!”), the opera follows brothers Mike and Garby as they clash over the future of their family’s barbershop on Chicago’s South Side. The Factotum blends classical singing with diverse musical styles to create a soul opera, shifting from gospel and funk to rap and hip-hop to classic barbershop quartet and R&B. Three other opera companies have signed on to Lyric’s vision for The Factotum: Houston Grand Opera (also a co-commissioner), Portland Opera, and Washington National Opera will each present Lyric’s production in future seasons, ensuring the opera’s tributes to Black joy and to its Chicago roots extend far across the country.


WACO Wearable Art Gala

WACO Wearable Art

In October 2022, Marcus was the Music Director of the WACO Wearable Art Gala, where he conducted South Side Symphony performing his orchestrations alongside Chloe and Halle Bailey and Andra Day.


For the celebratory fifth year anniversary gala, the wearable art theme was Step Into Harlem Nights. The event was hosted by five-time NAACP Image Award winner Keke Palmer, and featured an all-star lineup, including a special performance by Grammy and Golden Globe Award winner Andra Day as well as a musical tribute by Chloe Bailey and Halle Bailey. Other acts featured both emerging and established artists including the Debbie Allen Dance Academy (DADA), with choreography by the Television Academy’s Governors Award recipient and DADA founder Debbie Allen, Chicago Philharmonic Composer-in-Residence Marcus Norris conducting the dynamic South Side Symphony, Daytime Emmy Award winner Obba Babatundé, and Grammy-nominated Jazz and R&B Music Hall of Famer Freda Payne—among other award-winning performers.


Critically acclaimed actor and Golden Globe Award winner Angela Bassett, received the Film & TV Icon Award, recognizing her career achievements in television and film and continuous support for young artists. The Art Icon Award went to internationally-celebrated contemporary artist and the U.S. State Department Medal of Arts award recipient Mark Bradford. Special guests for the event included actress and longtime co-host of It’s Showtime at the Apollo Kiki Shepard, along with music mogul, philanthropist and art collector Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter.


Honk For Jesus. Save Your Soul.

Honk for Jesus Marcus Norris

In January 2022, Marcus made his film score debut at Sundance Film Festival with Honk For Jesus. Save Your Soul. The music was composed and arranged by Marcus and recorded by his South Side Symphony in Chicago. 


The movie follows the proud first lady of a Southern Baptist megachurch, Trinitie Childs (Regina Hall), who carries an immense responsibility on her shoulders. After a scandal involving her husband, Pastor Lee-Curtis Childs (Sterling K. Brown), the church is forced to close temporarily, leaving Trinitie struggling to manage the aftermath. Now Trinitie and Lee-Curtis must rebuild their congregation and reconcile their faith by all means necessary to make the biggest comeback that commodified religion has ever seen.


Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul. is from the sibling duo the Ebo twins, writer-director Adamma Ebo and producer Adanne Ebo, who made their feature film debut here with production company Pinky Promise. The pic is an adaptation of their previous short film of the same name. Oscar winner Kaluuya produces with Amandla Crichlow; alongside the Ebo twins. Monkeypaw’s Jordan Peele executive produced. Listen to the album here.


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More About Marcus Norris

Marcus began working with Chicago Philharmonic in 2021, as an orchestrator for Adrian Dunn and Chicago Philharmonic’s HT Virtual Stage production of Redemption. Also featured in the program was the Chicago Premiere of Marcus Norris’ violin concerto Glory, featuring Njioma Grevious. (Njioma recently won First Place Laureate in the Senior Division of the 2023 Sphinx Competition for her performance of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Concerto for Violin. Watch the performance here.) Then in September 2021, Marcus Norris returned to Chicago for a second, live performance of Glory with Njioma Grevious to open Chicago Philharmonic’s 21/22 Symphonic Series. (Photo above shows Executive Director Terell Johnson, violinist Njioma Grevious, and Dr. Marcus Norris.)


Since then, Marcus has continued to work with Adrian Dunn. Marcus orchestrated Emancipation, the second installment in the trilogy cycle composed by Adrian Dunn exploring Black life in America, through genres created by Black Americans. In Dunn’s words: “As a classically trained musician, there were things in my childhood that I was forced to discard about my musical upbringing and identity. Emancipation is me going back and getting all of those things and bringing them to the concert stage. My inspiration for this piece includes Black sacred texts of Maya Angelou, Kanye West, Tupac, Marlon Riggs, James Baldwin, and Audre Lorde, to name a few.” Listen to the live recording of this 2022 concert on WTTW here.


Dr. Marcus Norris’s first foray into making music came in the form of producing rap beats on pirated software, installed on a Windows 98 computer that he Macgyvered together from spare parts while lying on the floor of his childhood bedroom. Though he came to composing concert music later, he transferred that same imagination and ingenuity to writing music of all kinds. This cross-genre mastery resulted in Beyoncé asking Marcus to orchestrate several songs for her and 50-piece orchestra as part of her surprise 2023 Dubai return to live performance. Miss Tina Knowles-Lawson also chose Marcus as Music Director for the 2022 Wearable Art Gala, with Marcus and South Side Symphony performing as the on-stage orchestra accompanying Chloe & Halle Bailey, Andra Day, and more. Marcus founded South Side Symphony in 2020, which he describes as “like a younger, more ‘ratchet’ version of The Roots, accompanied by lush live strings and horns.” The ensemble recorded their first live album in 2023 through a weekend of three sold-out shows in North Hollywood. As a film composer, the Boston Herald praised his “impressively orchestral score” for the 2022 feature film “Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.” starring Regina Hall & Sterling K. Brown, written and directed by Adamma Ebo.


He has made a number of achievements in concert music, including being selected as an inaugural Composer-in-Residence for the Chicago Philharmonic from 2021-24, earning a commission from the Atlanta Opera as prize for winning their inaugural 96-hour Opera Project, making his Walt Disney Concert Hall debut in 2022 with his piece “MERCY” as part of the LA Phil’s National Composers Intensive, and being awarded the prestigious Cota-Robles fellowship to earn his PhD in Music Composition at UCLA. His violin concerto “GLORY” opened to three sold-out performances when premiered by the Jackson Symphony Orchestra in 2019, and then was subsequently performed in Guangzhou, China later that year. His Dance Suite “I Tried So Hard for You” premiered in Havana in 2018, closely following the Russian String Orchestra premiere of “My Idols Are Dead” in Moscow.


For more information on Marcus and his music visit  www.MarcusNorris.com  (or @MarcusNorris on IG) and www.SouthSideSymphony.org .