5 Questions to Nia Imani Franklin (Founder, Compose Her)

American composer and soprano Nia Imani Franklin is the founder and operator of Compose Her, an initiative meant to advance and nurture women and girls in classical composition and musicianship. Franklin earned her Master’s degree in music in 2017 and is the recipient of a large scope of awards and honors, from the Kenan Fellowship at Lincoln Center to 2019’s Miss America. Franklin is committed to furthering music education, to which she brings a unique perspective.

How does your initiative Compose Her advocate for women composers and musicians?

I use my Compose Her initiative to shine light on more women in music. This issue is extremely cogent to me because I have witnessed a lack of diversity in the classical music industry, which spans from my years as an undergrad to a graduate, and even now as a professional. I’ve created an online community through our social media platforms where women can communicate and find like-minded women in the music industry. Additionally, I started a virtual Masterclass series where I teach the basics of music composition. Stay tuned for more opportunities that we will be offering.

Nia Imani Franklin--Photo by Jessielyn Palumbo

Nia Imani Franklin–Photo by Jessielyn Palumbo

Will you describe your path to becoming a composer, and if or when you had a teacher that you considered to be a role model with whom you closely identified?

I decided to become a composer while I was a sophomore in high school, and it has been a very rewarding journey. I had an incredible experience with my professor at The University of North Carolina School of the Arts. He encouraged me to draw from my musical background in Gospel, Soul, R&B, and Jazz genres, which heavily influenced me.

Will you speak to your experiences with classical music’s recent affirmations of support for BIPOC composers and/or women composers, and whether or not you find the support to be sincere?

To ask about classical music’s affirmation to support people of color, I think, carries an assumption that there are no segments of the classical music community that are already doing this. I have worked with and am already working with entities that support people of color and women. I think that there is a growth within classical music organizations and leaders who have pledged to make a better effort to highlight Black composers. As someone in this space who has been an advocate for a long time, I am looking forward to seeing more inclusion for female composers as well as classical musicians of color, in general. As for if the recent affirmations of support for people of color are sincere or not, I would answer, “Time will tell.”

Do you find similarities in your feelings about the 19th Amendment and your feelings about the current new music political landscape?

In a word—No. Although the 19th Amendment granted women the right to vote, it was not inclusive to all women. Suffragists such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Lucretia Mott did indeed stand alongside abolitionists Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth. However, Stanton and Anthony divested from the Abolition Movement. Stanton and Anthony actively campaigned against the 15th Amendment, which awarded the right to vote to African American men, because they felt that women deserved the right to vote either before or at the same time as Black men. Stanton and Anthony openly teamed up with White supremacists to further the cause of Women’s Suffrage. Back then being a suffragist was not synonymous with being an anti-racist. And this is still the case today.

By contrast, the goal of Compose Her is to recognize and promote the advancement of ALL women regardless of race, creed, sexuality, national origin, or religion. At the same time, Compose Her does not discount male composers; in fact, I personally have tutored and worked alongside my male counterparts. With that being said, against the backdrop of the current music political landscape, I still believe there is a long way to go for Black women composers, in particular.

Nia Imani Franklin--Photo by Jessielyn Palumbo

Nia Imani Franklin–Photo by Jessielyn Palumbo

In your music education advocacy, how do you incorporate discussions on gender and racial equity in music to students or school administrations?

I create conversations about equity by illuminating the names and profiles of female composers who are rising stars and currently forerunners and leaders in the field of music composition. When speaking to school administrations specifically, I make sure I communicate the disproportionate rarity of female composers in the field I work. I also encourage students—especially female students—to know they are not alone, thereby inspiring them to strive and to contribute to an inclusive arena of music that moves positively toward a more heterogeneous diversity.


UNEVEN MEASURES is a series dedicated to amplifying today’s women, trans, and nonbinary artists on the centennial anniversary of the 19th Amendment leading up to the 2020 presidential election. This series is made possible through a generous grant from The Elizabeth & Michel Sorel Charitable Organization Inc. to the American Composers Forum and their partnership with I CARE IF YOU LISTEN. The Sorel Organization is committed to supporting gender equity in music and addressing systemic inequities by providing greater visibility for women musicians from underrepresented communities.

I CARE IF YOU LISTEN is a program of the American Composers Forum, funded with generous donor and institutional support. A gift to ACF helps support the work of ICIYL. Editorial decisions are made at the sole discretion of the editor-in-chief. For more on ACF, visit the “At ACF” section or