Lucia Thomas (violin) is an artistic organizer, writer, singer, banjo player, songwriter, and classically trained violinist who studied at the Lamont School of Music and plays many styles. In addition to playing professionally in many bands in Chicago, she is also the fiddler for international touring band Mojo and the Bayou Gypsies and sings music from the Republic of Georgia with Alioni ensemble. Lucia seeks to build bridges across communities through music, dance, and song, bringing people together in celebration of music, culture, and diversity. She volunteers for the Interfaith Committee on Detained Immigrants.
Sam Hyson (violin) is a song collector, writer, accordionist, and classically trained violinist with a degree in environmental studies from Warren Wilson College. He plays numerous styles of world music. He has traveled extensively performing in restaurants, and enjoys transporting audiences to other times and places. Sam wishes to draw from cultural roots in order to remember our natural roots, recognizing that we all come from the earth and are bound to its ecology.
Robert Fisher (viola) attended Illinois State University, New England Conservatory of Music, and Northwestern University. He is a member of the Chicago Sinfonietta and the Joffrey Ballet Pit Orchestra. He started and teaches a successful violin program at the McDade Classical School for kindergarten to 6th grade. He also teaches at Lane Tech College Prep High School. Mr. Fisher is a connoisseur of new music, having over 11 pieces written for him in his personal library. He has given solo world premiere performances at New England Conservatory, Berklee College of Music, Illinois State University, and at every major university in the Chicago area. Mr. Fisher is an authority on African American Music and Musicians and has given clinics and performance in Illinois, Arkansas and Mississippi.
Khari Lemuel (cello) knows he will one day rise into heaven on a cloud of musical composition. For him music is a daily meditation, an altar where he can unfold the purpose of his life. Above all, Khari Lemuel is an artist painting with sound, composition and the mystical force of creation. A classically trained cellist, Khari produces original and improvised music of diverse influences and inspirations, including soul music and Chicago’s underground poetry scene. A practicing locksmith, Khari’s expertise is opening doors, literally and spiritually. As a performer, he has accompanied and opened for several major artists, including Stevie Wonder and Wyclef Jean. His latest album is titled Music & Self-Mastery.
Ellen Frolichstein (cello) performs, records, and teaches, specializing in classical, jazz, and Latin music. Ellen performs with the Lake Effect Ensemble and the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic, and she is on the board of the Evanston In School Music Association (EISMA). She is also the producer of a documentary called The Celiac Project.
Sojourner Zenobia (storyteller) is an actor, director, vocalist, choreographer, and performance artist. She investigates the arts as a pathway for strengthening relationships with unseen worlds – i.e. ancestors, nature, divine self – as a source of power for personal, social and political movements. She directs and collaborates with multi-talented artists including dancers, actors, installation artists, videographers, vocalists, and instrumentalists. Sojourner intentionally activates spaces of connection and gratitude through monthly meditations she guides for women of color. She is a unique gem in Chicago’s underground performance scene offering her original, spiritually themed productions in non-traditional theatre spaces. She studied interdisciplinary performance and Buddhist studies at Naropa University.
MASTER MUSICIAN BIOS
These exceptional artists were our mentors for our performance series The World In Chicago.
Jovan grew up in Beograd, the capital of Serbia, where he experienced Nazi occupation and saw his family dispossessed by Communism. Jovan demonstrated a passionate artistic impulse from a young age, when he began painting, writing, and playing violin. He studied at the Beograd Theater Academy, worked as a playwright in Yugoslavia, and traveled Western Europe as a musician before immigrating to Sweden, Canada, and finally to the US in 1971. He has been a prolific member of Chicago’s artistic community for four decades, as a painter, author and musician. Jovan’s stories, musical knowledge, and artistic exuberance provided the initial inspiration for the Chicago Folklore Ensemble.
Alba Guerra, singer, b. 1945 Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Alba grew up in Buenos Aires, the city to which both her parents immigrated from Galicia, Spain. She showed passion for music at an early age, singing with her family and at school. As a young woman, she took voice lessons and performed in singing contests and radio programs. She first moved to Chicago in 1969, where she married an Ecuadorian man. She and her husband lived in Canada, Ecuador, and Buenos Aires, returning to Chicago in 1978. Alba worked in real estate for many years, and began singing professionally in 1989. She is an accomplished actor, and has performed in several Spanish language plays at Chicago’s Aguijón Theater. She sings with many great Chicago musicians, including the tango band Yuyo Verde. She is a mother of two and a grandmother, and now cares daily for her mother Tita, who just became a U.S. citizen this year at the age of 102.
Baha’a Abu-Taha, singer and oud player, b. 1947 Jaffa, Palestine.
Baha’a grew up in Amman, Jordan. His parents were Muslim Palestinians from the cosmopolitan seacoast town of Jaffa, where the family had lived for generations. In 1948, his immediate family moved to Jordan as refugees. In Amman, Baha’a’s father built a prosperous business, and all eight children became educated professionals. Baha’a began singing as a young child. He started acting when he was in high school, and studied theater and video production in college. He taught himself to play oud, the Arabic lute, when he was 26. He worked in theater and television for years, before moving to Chicago to pursue a master’s degree in theater at the University of Illinois. After graduating, Baha’a stayed in Chicago, where he performed music in nightclubs and worked a variety of jobs, including interior designer, chef, and vice president of a shampoo company. Baha’a is also an inventor, a composer, a music teacher, and an instrument maker.
Abee Mensah, keyboard player, b. 1955 Cape Coast, Ghana.
Abee Mensah grew up in the Central and Western Regions of Ghana. His uncle taught him to play keyboard from the age of ten, and he started touring with Ghanaian highlife bands while still in high school. He became a music producer and started recording for many great artists of Ghanaian palm-wine, highlife, and gospel music. He continued touring and playing in nightclubs in Ghana, and also performed in Ivory Coast and Liberia. Abee came to the Chicago in 1994 to pursue a better education for his four children, and worked a variety of jobs. He played with the Chicago band Ghannata for many years. Now he performs in churches, teaches keyboard classes, and continues to record and produce music in his own studio. He is currently establishing a new band and working on a tribute album to Nelson Mandela, whom Abee considers one of Africa’s greatest leaders, along with Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first president after independence.
Phiwan Phonwiang, khaen player, b. 1960 Taphan Hin, Thailand.
Phiwan grew up in a large family of farmers and craftspeople in Phichit Province, Central Thailand. At a young age he began singing and playing khaen, a mouth organ with bamboo pipes traditionally played by the Lao people of Laos and Northeast Thailand. In Thailand, Phiwan worked as a physical education teacher and school administrator. There he met Colleen Loeffler, a Peace Corps volunteer. Phiwan came to the United States with her in 2000 and they married in 2003. Since moving to the U.S., Phiwan has worked as a massage therapist specializing in traditional Thai bodywork. He is a loving father and an avid cook.