Photo of Somi by Tatenda Chidora

Virtuosic Polymath Somi Kakoma Wins Prestigious Doris Duke Artist Award

After a landmark year of creative output and performances, including her Carnegie Hall debut, album release, and off-Broadway production at the New York Theatre Workshop, Somi Kakoma has received a $550,000 prize from the Doris Duke Foundation to support the continuation of her creative prowess.

☆☆☆☆ – Downbeat Magazine

“[Somi] creates an elegant amalgam of the musics and bi-continental experiences that have shaped her life” – NPR

… a colorful portrait of Miriam Makeba’s diverse catalog.” – Jazz Times 

“A performer in full command of her instrument and her powers.” – The New York Times

Vocalist and composer Somi Kakoma is among six new recipients to win the Doris Duke Artist Award, it was announced yesterday evening. The largest national prize dedicated exclusively to individual performing artists, the Doris Duke Artist Award was established in 2012. This year, it was revealed that the prize doubled in size from previous years, from $275,000 to $550,000 per awardee. Each award will act as an investment in the artist’s potential while celebrating their extraordinary and innovative contributions to the fields of jazz, contemporary dance and theater at large. The tenth anniversary celebration and first-ever award ceremony for the Doris Duke Artist Awards took place on February 13, 2023 at Jazz at Lincoln Center, hosted by Common.

“As a proud daughter of immigrants, I have never fit neatly into a ‘here’ or ‘there’ — nor has my music,” Somi shared in a statement. “Receiving this award is affirmation that this journey has not been in vain. Knowing that it was determined by a panel of my peers is especially meaningful — I feel seen, understood, supported, and so very grateful,” she adds. “This award will allow me to pursue or formalize more of my artistic projects on the African continent in spaces where the local cultural economy doesn’t always have the resources in place to support them.” 

The receipt of this prestigious award follows a landmark year for the virtuosic jazz vocalist who records under the mononym Somi professionally. In March of 2022, she released her album Zenzile: The Reimagination Of Miriam Makeba, a celebration of the late civil rights activist and South African vocalist Miriam Makeba. Somi’s allegiance to her trailblazing role model continued over the Spring of 2022 when she starred in the Off-Broadway production of Dreaming Zenzile at New York Theatre Workshop, an original musical Somi wrote that sheds more light on Makeba’s impactful musical contributions and social justice career. This past November, Somi made her debut performance at Carnegie Hall, showcasing new electro-acoustic chamber arrangements from Zenzile as well as a lush retrospective of her most beloved repertoire. The impeccable performance sold out Zankel Hall.

Among Somi, awardees of the 10th anniversary class of Doris Duke Artists include composer and trumpeter Chief Xian aTunde Adjuah, director Charlotte Brathwaite, choreographers and performers Ayodele Casel and Rosy Simas and playwright and performer Kristina Wong.


About the Doris Duke Artist Awards
The Doris Duke Foundation believes that the most effective illustration of the power of the performing arts to positively impact our society is found in the vital work of artists themselves.

Established in 2012, the Doris Duke Artist Award is the largest national prize dedicated exclusively to individual performing artists. Each year, the Doris Duke Artist Awards support select performing artists across the fields of contemporary dance, jazz and theater with unrestricted individual grants. The goal of the award is to propel leading performing artists and to demonstrate the creative possibilities that emerge when artists themselves are able to define—and provide for—what they need to thrive.

Since inception, 129 Doris Duke Artists have received a total of $35.5 million in Doris Duke Artist Awards, each receiving individual grants of up to $275,000. The Doris Duke Foundation seeks to inspire arts philanthropy to rethink the prevalent project funding model by providing artists with flexible support that allows them to take creative risks that are only possible when all needs are met. Doris Duke Artists may use funds on anything: work space, travel, study, a new home, health care, exploring new collaborations or retirement savings. The foundation believes that investing in the artist as a whole person has the power to unlock new levels of creativity and to amplify performing artists’ contributions to the world.

To learn more about the program, visit


About the Doris Duke Foundation
The Doris Duke Foundation (DDF) supports the well-being of people and the planet for a more creative, equitable and sustainable future. The foundation operates five national grantmaking programs—in the performing arts, the environment, medical research, child and family well-being, and mutual understanding between communities—as well as Duke Farms and Shangri La, two centers that serve the public directly. The Doris Duke Foundation is one of only two foundations in history to have received the National Medal of the Arts from the National Endowment for the Arts, presented by President Barack Obama, in special recognition of DDF’s support of creative expression across the United States and bold commitment to artistic risk,helping artists, musicians, dancers and actors share their talents and enriched the cultural life of the nation. To learn more, visit

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