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Lenora Z Helm Hammonds

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Assistant Professor
(919) 530-6653
(919) 530-7979
204 C. Ruth Edwards Music Hall


Assistant Professor, Department of Music,
Director, NCCU Vocal Jazz Ensemble
teaching Applied Voice, Voice Class methods (MUSL 1260) (music education course)
and 20th Century Music (MUSL 1300) and MUSL 4900 - Songwriting (Seminar in the Music Industry)

Graduate and Undergraduate Jazz Studies Faculty
teaching Jazz Vocal Combo, Jazz Vocal Ear Training, Vocal Jazz Online.

Community Director, College of Liberal Arts; Coordinate activities, programs and events between NCCU College of Liberal Arts departments (Music, Theater, History, Art, English, Modern Foreign Language, Global Studies) and community based organizations.



....a vocal musician, composer, lyricist, arranger, teaching artist, former U.S. Jazz Ambassador (1998-99) and MacDowell Colony Composer Fellow, and a native of Chicago, Illinois. She was the first African-American woman to graduate from Berklee College of Music with a B.M. in Film Music Scoring/Voice, a degree she earned in just three years. Helm earned her Master of Music degree in Jazz Performance from East Carolina University in Greenville, NC, and in doing so, an induction into the prestigious music honor societies, Pi Kappa Lambda and The Golden Key International Honor Society, for academic excellence. Other formal studies include time studying Indian classical voice at the Jazz India Vocal Institute in Bombay, India. She has been a sought after teaching artist for arts organizations including Carnegie Hall, Brooklyn Philharmonic, Schomburg Center's Junior Scholar's Program, Def Dance Jam Workshop and Young Audiences New York, and since 2005, serves as an Instructor at North Carolina Central University's (NCCU) music department in Durham, North Carolina. At NCCU, she co-directs their highly acclaimed NCCU Vocal Jazz Ensemble and teaches jazz and classical voice, vocal teaching methods, vocal ensemble performance and jazz vocal ear training in the Jazz Studies Program and Voice Department, and 20th Century Music and Seminar in the Music Industry-Songwriting in the Music Department.


Her vocal jazz students have won placements in Betty Carter Jazz Ahead workshops, Carnegie Hall Professional Development Workshops with Bobby McFerrin; top honors as Outstanding Performer by Downbeat Magazine, and finalists in Thelonious Monk Vocal Jazz competitions. Under Helm 19s tutelage, The NCCU Vocal Jazz Ensemble boasts among many awards, being the first vocal jazz ensemble to perform in the 51st Annual Collegiate Jazz Festival hosted by the University of Notre Dame in 2009, and won solo feature spots at the first NYC Jazz Festival 2010 held at Jazz at Lincoln Center. Her most recent student accomplishment is the NCCU Vocal Jazz Ensemble winning a spot (over 125 applicants!) as one of six finalists (and only HBCU) in the college vocal jazz category to the 2012 Next Generation Jazz Festival in Monterey, CA.


Helm's many achievements in music have spanned nearly three decades, garnering her inclusion as a subject of biographical record since 2005 in the yearly editions of Who's Who in America, Who's Who in American Women and Who's Who in the World.


Helm's work as a leading vocal musician earned her the accolade "the voice of her generation" from Jazziz Magazine. Her performing credits are as follows: In late 2011, she released her sixth solo recording entitled, I Love Myself When I'm Laughing, And Then Again When I'm Looking Mean And Impressive boasting five self-penned compositions, and new lyrics to standard instrumental jazz gems like Donna Lee, Delilah and Dear Lord. Her 2009 release, Chronicles of a Butterfly: A Story of Transformation, produced by renowned saxophonist Branford Marsalis features Mulgrew Miller (pno); Doug Wamble (guitar) and Neal Caine (bass); both titles are on her own Zenzalai Music record label. Previous solo recordings are Awakenings (1997, Baoule Music), Spirit Child (1999, J Curve Records) two Top 20 releases, Precipice (2002 Baoule Music; re-released 2007 on Zenzalai Music) and Voice Paintings (2003 MidLantic Records; re-released 2007 on Zenzalai Music), touted by Christopher Loudon of JazzTimes magazine as "a multi-hued masterpiece." Visible on the discographies of many internationally renowned musicians, Lenora can be heard on jazz recordings of saxophonists Dave Liebman, Antonio Hart, and pianists Donald Brown and Andrew Hill. Since 1987, Ms. Helm leads her own group, The Zenzalai Project, playing prestigious international festivals and concert venues and winning grant and commissioning awards for their excellence as an ensemble.

Multi-Genre Performer....

Helm earned her traveling and performing stripes on the road with many R&B, Pop and Jazz artists including Freddie Jackson, Michael Franks and South American pop star, Emmanuel. She was a member of the R&B vocal group SEPIA, with founder Marlon Saunders, Arif St. Michael and Rosa Russ. SEPIA's acclaimed international release Absence of Pain, won critical acclaim from their only release in the late 1990s, and is enjoying resurgence as an underground neo-soul hit on many internet and local radio stations in the United States, London and Europe. Sought after for their dynamic and unique group sound SEPIA can be heard on the recordings of Japan's Jiro Yoshida, French group, Sixun and many others. Helm cut her teeth as an in-demand vocalist in New York City in the early 1990s on numerous jingle recording sessions and as a session singer and background vocalist on many recordings of all styles, and her voice is heard on a number of radio, television advertisements and commercials.

Stretching her vocal repertoire beyond Jazz, R&B, and Pop, Helm won, by audition, key roles as a principal performer with the Aquarius Opera Workshop performing several seasons in New York City and Crittenden Opera Studio in Washington DC under the direction of Richard Crittenden. Although her professional career has its focus in jazz vocal performance, she has also performed dramatic roles in theater and opera. She sang in the NCCU Operatorio Ensemble's production of The Magic Flute (Queen of the Night), and performed with the NCCU-based B. N. Duke Atrium Chamber Players and the Durham-based Mallarme Chamber Players in numerous performances of William Banfield's jazz-opera adaptation of Langston Hughes' play, Soul Gone Home. In New York City & Boston, MA, she performed in various musical theater productions of Man of La Mancha, (Aldonza), Nine, Pippin, and in off-Broadway productions of For Colored Girls. Ms. Helm also sang Der Rosenkavalier (Marschallin) with Richard Crittenden's Aquarius Opera Workshop in Washington, D.C. Highlights of other vocal achievements include her recorded and live vocal performances with Dance Theatre of Harlem's tour of "St. Louis Woman: A Blues Ballet."


As a TV and film music composer, notable music credits include Ms. Helm's compositions featured in several 2012 Black History Month promo campaigns on the ESPN network. The ESPN spots were a reunion of her work with noted writer/director Lana Garland, also the director for the ESPN Black History Month campaigns. Garland's film, After Life, previewed and awarded in 2007 at the Arizona Black Film Festival and the Village D Cinema festival in Lisbon, Portugal, also featured Helm 19s score. Composition awards include 2007 Encore Award from Chamber Music America, to present her composition commissioned in 2005, the jazz suite, Journeywoman: A Work in Progress. The creation of Journeywoman was a result of being selected as a recipient of the prestigious 2004-5 Doris Duke Jazz Ensembles Award for jazz composers, administered by Chamber Music America and funded by the Doris Duke Charitable foundation. Other organizations recognizing her work as a composer include Meet the Composer and a coveted Composer Fellowship from the MacDowell Colony, the oldest artist's colony in the United States. Helm is a SESAC writer and her publishing companies, Baoule Works Music Publishing, is a SESAC publishing affiliate and her ASCAP publishing company, Holly's Hits Music Publishing.


Helm's lyric writing talents were given the nod by jazz artists pianist Andrew Hill, and saxophonists Wayne Shorter and Branford Marsalis to record her versions of their compositions penned with Helm's lyrics, garnering critical acclaim.


Since 2011, a number of new projects, marrying Lenora's intrigue with the Internet, and the intersection of Jazz, new media and global citizenry, have created a niche of opportunity and focus. She was elected to lead a team of educators from three universities on three continents (U.S. South Africa and Denmark) to create Humanities coursework through globally networked learning environments (GNLE) for the Collaborative Online Institute for Learning (COIL) through the State University of New York. (SUNY). The COIL project will culminate in newly created humanities courses on the respective campuses, while establishing new paradigms for educators making cultural connections through GNLE's. The research and findings from the COIL project will be published in 2013. Additionally she has joined the 21st century trend with other educators and artists, offering instruction online. Her eMusic "school", www.IntroToVocalJazzOnline.com offers private, group and classroom instruction in vocal performance, vocal jazz and artist development.


True to her heart's desire to support independent artists and to contribute to the arts education community, and notwithstanding her efforts of carving out her personal music career goals, she finds time to express her entrepreneurial pursuits in music. She founded the The Artist Boot Camp, a weekend workshop and resulting community of workshop graduates and music industry coaches, designed to equip independent artists with the one tool that has proven to foster self-sufficiency and career sustainability.


Lenora is writing her first arts education book, a career book for entry level teaching artists entitled Start Your Own Edutainment Business: Making a Career as a Teaching Artist. This exciting venture was borne of her well received workshops, "How to be a Teaching Artist," given in many colleges and universities, as well as at music industry conferences and festivals. Her highly successful edutainment programs, Blues Women; Armstrong, Ellington & Ella; the Real McCoy and What is Jazz? were performed to several hundred K-12, family and adult audiences and school residencies around the country. These programs are the genesis of the performance series: Great Artists, Past and Present.


Helm is presently on the board of Classical Voice of North Carolina (CVNC.org), an online arts journal for North Carolina. She was a past president and board member of International Women in Jazz, and has served on the boards of New York City Arts in Education Roundtable, and GRAMMY in the Schools.

She lives in Durham with her husband, Fred Hammonds.

You can visit Lenora Zenzalai Helm on line at:













MA East Carolina University 2010
BM Berklee College of Music 1982


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