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Kahil El’ Zabar

Dr. Kahil El’Zabar, internationally acclaimed percussionist, composer, and educator is considered one of the most prolific music innovators of his generation. In 2014, Dr. El’Zabar was knighted and awarded the Chevalier Medal of Honor in the Cultural Arts, by the French Government. His contributions in music, education, and community led to his being named “Chicagoan of the year” in 2004 by the Chicago Tribune. 

Kahil El’Zabar has won the percussionist of the year award twice from Down Beat Jazz Magazine in the late 80’s, and also from the International Jazz Journalists Association in 2002, 2003 and 2005. He won an “Outstanding Career in Music Award” from the African American Arts Alliance 2001, and also Artist of the year from the Chicago Music Awards. Dr. El’Zabar received his Ph.D. (Doctor of Fine Arts) in 2006 from Lake Forest College (Lake Forest, Illinois). In 2010, the U.S. Embassy awarded Dr.Kahil El’Zabar, the “Cultural Diplomacy Award” for his outstanding global contributions in the arts. 

He has worked with a myriad of legendary artists such as Dizzy Gillespie, Cannonball Adderly, Pharoah Sanders, Stevie Wonder, Donnie Hathaway, Nina Simone, Eddie Harris, Lester Bowie, David Murray, Archie Shepp, Nona Hendryx, Kurt Elling, Ntozake Shange, Roy Ayers, and Neneh Cherry He is also the leader of several award-winning bands. He founded the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble in 1973, the Ritual Trio in 83, Infinity Orchestra in 85, JUBA Collective in 2002, the Kahil El’Zabar Quartet in 2007, and the Ethnics feat: Nona Hendryx in 2010. He has also recorded more than 50 recordings under his name. He’s scored music for feature films, “Love Jones” (New Line), “Mo’ Money” (Columbia Pictures) and “How U Like Me Now” (Universal Pictures). Disney hired El’Zabar in 1996 to do musical arrangements for the theater version of “The Lion King”. 

Photo Credit: Sandro Miller