Illumine Artist Feature: Okorie “OkCELLO” Johnson
Please tell us a little about yourself and your background as an artist.
I describe my circuitous route to my unusual solo cello career in the following quote: “After years of putting my cello down and picking it back up, after years of deciding that the cello wasn’t financially practical, after years of thinking that my other voices were my native ones, I realized that the cello was the oldest, the most central and the most sacred part of me. I resolved never, ever, to deny it again.”
What or who has been an influence on your work and career?
While I have a hard time nailing down instrumental influences on my style of play, I would say that the experience of my live show is largely informed by my years playing behind amazing singer-songwriters like India.Arie, Doria Roberts, Leah Morgan, and Callaghan.
The technology that I use in a show I was exposed to by Doria Roberts and Zoe Keating. Sonically, I think I am trying to use my classical background and my love for Black American contemporary musics to make songs and expressions across genre that feel like I am talking straight to your heart or telling you a story on the big screen. All of this, and of course, Prince.
What is something that your audience would find surprising about your cello?
My cello is presumed by my luthier Stephanie Voss to be around 170 years old. She believes that it was made by a workshop of women in Bohemia in the middle of the 19th century to meet a growing demand for instruments in the Americas.
What interests you about performing at Oakland Cemetery?
I have been playing music in Atlanta for almost 25 years now. Atlanta is part of my history, and I am part of its. As such, any time I get to play at the most historic and significant cemetery in the city, it feels like the city and I are acknowledging the history we have together and connecting it to all the other significant currents of history that run through that plot of land. It’s an honor to be in conversation with these souls and that hallowed ground.