Ruth Naomi Floyd
"Floyd's voice highlights not only her superb dynamic control, flexibility and faultless diction, but also her most important asset: an unmistakable emotional integrity that conveys her music's power.”
~ The Times London
A vocalist and composer, Ruth Naomi Floyd has created a discography dedicated to a sacred jazz expression. She has been at the forefront of creating vocal jazz settings that express theology and justice for over 25 years. She leads her own multi-faceted ensemble and her recordings consist primarily of original compositions. Blessed with a soaring mezzo-soprano voice, critics praise Ruth’s music for its distinctive sound of progressive ensemble jazz that is seamlessly blended with messages of hope, faith, redemption, and love. Ruth has recorded and performed with such notable instrumentalists as James Newton, James Weidman, Gary Thomas, John Patitucci, Terri Lyne Carrington, George Cables, Bobby Watson, Matthew Parrish, Aaron Graves, Mark Prince, Diane Monroe, Byron Lanham, Bryan Carrot, Keith Loftis, Uri Caine, Craig Handy, and many more.
Rooted and grounded in a faith ethos, Ruth has been a presence and worker in areas of the arts and justice throughout her career. Ruth has lectured on the intersection of beauty, theology, justice, culture, and the arts at numerous performance centers, academic settings and conferences around the world.
A committed music educator, Ruth is the first African American woman to serve as Founding Director of a University Jazz Studies Program in the United States. She served as Director of Jazz Studies at Cairn University and is an Adjunct Professor and Artist in Residence at Temple University. Ruth has taught music education and ensembles for 21 years at The City School.
Ruth’s recent compositions include Freedom which premiered in April 2018 in Wales, United Kingdom. Commissioned in honor of human rights activist, Mende Nazer’s profound story of survival as a slave in Sudan and London. In addition, the centennial year of Leonard Bernstein’s birth, Philadelphia’s Mann Music Center, in partnership with NEWorks Productions, commissioned Ruth as one of four composers to create a community mass inspired by Bernstein’s MASS, that explores anew the relevance of faith in our times.
The Frederick Douglass Jazz Works is Ruth’s latest body of compositions for jazz septet, based on the speeches and writings of the great leading orator, abolitionist, writer, publisher, and statesman. This body of work won the Best Vocal Recital Award at the San Francisco Classical Voice Audience Choice Awards for 2020- 2021. In 2021, in partnership with Intercultural Journeys, Ruth was commissioned to compose a three-song cycle for voice and cello in honor of the legacy and activism of the great contralto Marian Anderson. Ruth and Intercultural Journeys partnered on another commission, for which the National Endowment for the Arts awarded a Project Grant in May 2021. This body of work, The Frances Suite, will explore the life, advocacy, and literary work of Frances Ellen Watkin Harper, and will feature an all-female ensemble of color. The Orrin Evans Trio, featuring Ruth, was named one of NPR Music's Best Live Sessions of 2021 for their powerful anthem of liberation, the African American Spiritual, "Oh Freedom."
Ruth is also an award-winning fine art photographer, specializing in black and white portrait images. She uses silver-based films with 35mm and 4x5 inch view cameras to capture her images and uses traditional wet darkroom technology as well as digital printing on archival papers to produce her final images. Ruth has received awards, prizes, and grants for her photographic images, and her work is included in permanent and private collections. For over twenty-five years Ruth has been devoted and active in providing compassionate care and spiritual support to people infected and affected by HIV and AIDS in Philadelphia and Africa.
Ruth was awarded the Kimmel Center’s Jazz Residency for the 2019-2020 season. In December 2019, Concordia College New York, awarded Ms. Floyd an Honorary Doctorate for her unique and valuable contribution to the arts, her commitment to music education, and her justice work.