School of Music > About > Alumni > LaRob K. Payton

LaRob K. Payton, Voice Performance - BM '15

​Artistic Director and Bass-Baritone, LaRob K. Payton developed a love for singing at an early age and grew to understand the power and impact music had his communities. He found a spirit in the Gospel songs he sang, passion in the R&B he heard, and nuance in the Classical music he studied. At DePaul University where he received a Bachelor’s of Music in Vocal Performance, LaRob performed leading roles in DePaul Opera Theatre’s main-stage productions including Pistola (Falstaff), Superintendent Budd (Albert Herring), Colline (La Boheme), Giove (La Calisto), and Thoas (Iphigenie en Tauride). He has studied with world-renowned teachers, directors, and coaches, including Michael Sylvester, Marc Embree, Harry Silverstein, Steven Mosteller, and Loren E. Meeker and has had musical opportunities that include traveling to study language, culture, and music in Urbania, Italy (Musica Nelle Marche)and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico (Istituto de Bel Canto). He has performed with the DePaul Chamber Orchestra (Des Knaben Wunderhorn, Mahler), Chicago Summer Opera (Vater, Hansel und Gretel/Humperdinck) and been afforded many opportunities to advance his vocal training and studies. 

LaRob continues to sing around the Chicago-area (William Ferris Chorale/North Shore Baptist Church) and is the Founder and Artistic Director of Hearing in Color, an organization dedicated to uplifting those whose contributions and stories have been historically excluded from classical spaces. As an Arts Administrative Specialist, he concurrently works at Lyric Opera of Chicago in the Learning and Creative Engagement Department, sits on the Board of La Caccina, a professional women's ensemble, as Diversity and Community Engagement Advisor, is an active consultant with the recently formed Black Opera Alliance and Black Administrators of Opera groups. He will also be working with New Music Chicago and their Ear Taxi Festival (2021) as Community Engagement Director. LaRob aims to use his voice to connect people from different communities as a newly appointed host of Chicago's Classical music station, WFMT (98.7 FM) to continue changing the predominantly white, European, male-centered classical consciousness.

Interview Questions:

What musical experiences led you to founding Hearing in Color?

LaRob: There were several musical experiences that led to the founding of Hearing in Color but, one of them certainly was my Senior recital at DePaul. After nearly 4 years of training by some of the world’s most acclaimed teachers and coaches, I realized that I hadn’t ever been coached on or taught repertoire by people who look like me. My senior recital offered me an opportunity to become deeply acquainted - through research and performance – with Black Composers and their music. After school, I vowed to continue that research and discover other overlooked composers of color and invest in the true telling of their compositions through performances by artists of similar cultural experiences.

What aspect of your work as Artistic Director do you find most rewarding?

As an Artistic Director, I am constantly offered an opportunity to express something different and I get to choose to do something outside of the normal scope of what has been deemed a “standard” method performance. The ability to break away from tradition and cater to the needs of a larger community is most important to me.

Similarly - what aspect of your performance career do you find most rewarding?

As a performer, I am tasked with interpreting art based on my personal experiences. I can use these experiences to build a pathway for others to experience incalculable empathy thus, bridging dissimilar communities of people.

Do you have a favorite composer? If so, what do you enjoy most about their work?

I don’t know if I have a favorite composer. Verdi’s Requiem stays on repeat because it’s a piece that I think is incredibly impactful over a century after its composition. Verdi, like H.T Burleigh, Zenobia Powell Perry, and Terrance Blanchard, all understand music as a catalyst for change and conversation.

Is there a recent performance you've seen or participated in that made a lasting impression on you?

Black is King performed by Beyoncé has made a lasting impression on me. All jokes aside, it was a production I felt had all the key components of an operatic performance: plot, costuming, sung throughout, and even incorporated aspects of poetry and dialogue. A brilliant retelling of themes presented in The Lion King but, more over an in-depth approach to a conversation surrounding Black Identity that we have not been able to see presented so beautifully. Opera would be wise to look at these types of performances and take notes.

Chicago has a rich musical scene. Outside of organizations you are personally involved with, what groups, venues or ensembles do you love to support?

Chicago Solisiti, D-Composed, Sphinx Organization, C.A.M.P.

Are there local arts organizations that you wish received greater recognition?

All those organizations (mentioned above) are worthy of great recognition and support!