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Compelling Portraits

Compelling Portraits is a tribute to the genius of contemporary African American composers. In my career I have been extremely fortunate to perform great orchestral music written by several 20th century African American composers, including William Grant Still, Florence Price, George Walker, and Adolphus Hailstork. Current Black composers continue this legacy, writing captivating music in diverse styles with conviction, skill and beauty. Their inspiring artistry has led me to seek several commissions of trombone chamber music, three of which are on this recording. This recording features the music of Kevin Day, Shawn Okpebholo, Maurice Draughn, Brian Raphael Nabors and James Lee III.

Sonatas, Songs and Spirituals

The debut recording of Kenneth Thompkins, Sonatas, Songs and Spirituals, is a celebration of the range and depth of music for trombone. This recording features the music of Alec Wilder, William Grant Still, Stephen Taylor and Philip Wharton. Sonatas, Songs and Spirituals won the American Prize for Instrumental Performance for 2018-19.

Compelling Portraits Reviews

Compelling Portraits introduces some fantastic additions to the trombone solo and chamber music repertoire, and they are expertly interpreted and executed by Ken Thompkins. This recording is a display of extraordinary achievement in performance, composition, collaboration, and creative artistry that I will surely return to many times. Bravo to everyone who contributed to making this recording!
Weston Sprott — Trombonist: Metropolitan Opera Orchestra; Dean and Director: Juilliard Preparatory Division

This recording is a treasure chest of beautiful and important pieces, performed with the highest level of artistry and technique by Ken and his excellent collaborators. The variety of instrumentations of the different pieces takes the listener on a musical journey. It is a treat to be introduced to this many wonderful works I didn’t know! A fabulous achievement!
Megumi Kanda — Principal Trombone: Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra
I’ve been a huge fan of Ken’s artistry for as long as I’ve known him and this new recording builds on my admiration for him. He easily navigates the tremendous technical and musical challenges of this rich, fascinating, and complex repertoire. This album is engrossing and enjoyable at the highest levels of our art form. Bravo my friend!!
James Nova — Trombonist: Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra

Compelling Portraits Composers

Kevin Day

Kevin Day

Kevin Day is an internationally acclaimed composer, conductor, and pianist based near Toronto, Canada. He has composed over 250 works for various mediums including many concertos, chamber music, orchestra, and wind band compositions. His music often intersects between the worlds of jazz, minimalism, Latin music, fusion, and contemporary classical idioms. He studied at the University of Miami, University of Georgia, and TCU. Day is currently the Assistant Professor of Composition and Director of the Jazz Ensemble at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Canada.

Maurice Draughn

Maurice Draughn

Maurice Draughn, a native of Detroit, is a harpist, composer and arranger specializing in works for voice and harp. Recent commissions include works for alto trombone and harp as well as chamber works for harp paired with flute, organ or strings. Mr. Draughn has an extensive background in the setting of the spiritual in various contexts. Notable works include his A Ceremony of Spirituals for treble voices and harp, Listen to the Lambs for two voices and piano as well as several arrangements for men’s chorus. His arrangements and compositions for harp ensemble are regularly featured in recitals, concerts, and festivals. His choral and harp works are available on several platforms including, and J.W. Pepper.

Shawn Okpebholo

Shawn Okpebholo

Shawn E. Okpebholo is a critically-acclaimed and award-winning composer whose music has been described as “devastatingly beautiful” and “fresh and new and fearless” (The Washington Post), “affecting” (The New York Times), “searing” (The Chicago Tribune), “staggering” (The New Yorker), “lyrical, complex, singular” (The Guardian), and “powerful” (BBC Music Magazine). 

Some honors include The Academy of Arts and Letters Walter Hinrichsen Award, First Place Winner of the 2020 American Prize in Composition (wind band division), Second Place Winner of the 2017 American Prize in Composition (orchestral division), First Prize Winner of the Flute New Music Consortium Composition Competition, and the Inaugural Awardee of the Leslie Adams-Robert Owens Composition Award. Granting agencies, including the National Endowment of the Arts and the Illinois Arts Council, have supported Okpebholo’s work. He has received commissions from many renowned arts organizations, opera companies, soloists, chamber groups, and large ensembles — artists who have performed his works at some of the nation’s most prestigious performance spaces, including Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center. Currently, Okpebholo is in residence at the Chicago Opera Theater as their Vanguard Opera Composer and the Fifth House Ensemble as their Composer-in-Residence, and has held residencies at many universities across the United States and two in Nigeria. PBS’s NewsHour and radio stations all across the country — including NPR’s Morning Edition, SiriusXM’s “Living American” series on Symphony Hall, and Chicago’s WFMT — have featured his music. He earned his master’s and doctoral degrees in composition from the University of Cincinnati, College-Conservatory of Music, where he also studied music theory. 

Okpebholo is Professor of Composition at Wheaton College-Conservatory of Music and lives in Wheaton, IL with his wife, violist Dorthy, and daughters Eva and Corinne. For his complete bio and to experience and learn more about his music, visit

Brian Raphael Nabors

Brian Raphael Nabors (b.1991, Birmingham, AL) is a composer of emotionally enriching music that tells exciting narratives with its vibrant themes and colorful harmonic language. Nabors’ music has been performed by the Boston, Atlanta, Nashville, Cincinnati, Detroit, Fort
Worth, and Munich Symphonies. His music has been performed at many events across the US, including the National Orchestral Institute (NOI) and the Tanglewood Music Festival. Nabors’ music draws from combinations of Jazz Funk, R&B, and Gospel with the modern flair
of contemporary classical music.

He was named a 2021 composition fellow of the Tanglewood music festival; a 2019 composer fellow in the American Composers Orchestra’s Earshot program with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra; a 2019 composer fellow with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra’s Composer Lab; and 2019 cycle five grand prize winner of the Rapido! National Composition Contest. Nabors was also a 2020 Fulbright scholarship recipient to Sydney, Australia,
studying with composer Carl Vine at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. Nabors earned a Doctor of Musical Arts and Master of Music degree in Composition at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (CCM) and a Bachelor of Music Theory & Composition degree from the School of the Arts at Samford University.

James Lee

James Lee III

James Lee III, born in 1975 graduated with a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Michigan in 2005. James Lee III’s orchestral works have been commissioned and premiered by the National Symphony, Detroit Symphony, Baltimore Symphony, Chicago Symphony, Boston Symphony, St. Louis Symphony, and the orchestras of Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Atlanta, and others. His works have been conducted by Leonard Slatkin, Marin Alsop, Michael Tilson Thomas, Juanjo Mena, and others. During the 2021-2022 season, Amer’ican, was premiered by the Detroit Symphony in October. Niiji Memories, his flute concerto was premiered by Julietta Curenton and the Columbia Orchestra also in October. In November the Calyx Piano Trio premiered Tones of Clay at Tanglewood and the Saint Louis Symphony performed Emotive Transformations.  Other world premieres in early 2022 include Freedom’s Genuine Dawn, which was premiered by the Baltimore Symphony in January 2022. A Double Standard for Karen Slack and the Pacifica String Quartet was premiered on June 18 and 19 at Carnegie Hall and Shriver Hall. In May 2023, a new work for chorus and orchestra will be premiered by the May Festival Orchestra and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. During the 2023-2024 season, a new piano concerto, English horn concert, and orchestral work will be premiered.

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