UPDATE (1/20/23): An earlier version of this article stated that Franklin lives in Brooklyn, NY. She in fact lives in Winston-Salem. TCB regrets the error.

Like Cinderella, Nia Imani Franklin believes a dream is a wish your heart makes.

Most know Franklin as a classically trained opera singer, composer, conductor and beauty-pageant titleholder who earned the crown of Miss America 2019.

Franklin, who hails from Winston-Salem and currently resides in the city, will bring her musical talents to her hometown to perform in concert with the Winston-Salem Symphony on Jan. 21 at the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art. Running for Miss America as an advocate for the arts, Franklin knew music is what she was meant to do.

“I always knew I wanted to do something with music on a professional level. I just wasn’t sure how to get there,” she says.

Franklin graduated from East Carolina University in 2015, earning a degree in music composition. During her time there, she fine-tuned her skills by taking private composition lessons, learning how to write for orchestra and various instruments. To fulfill degree requirements of studying an instrument once a week, Franklin chose to strengthen her voice.

“It all started with my love for wanting to sing but also writing songs at a really young age,” she says.

Franklin finds happiness in playing the piano (photo from composeher.org)

The performance will consist of Franklin conducting the symphony through a catalog of her original songs, including the well-known “Chrysalis Extended,” a piece that went viral on TikTok last year with more than one million views. This will be her second live performance of “Chrysalis Extended,” the first being at the National Sawdust in Brooklyn in 2022. She is also conducting a new piece called “Sculpted Pavilions,” inspired by Psalm 27 from the King James Bible. Franklin created the piece solely with string instruments, hoping the lush, light sound will provide a sense of calmness for viewers.

“I hope it can serve as 9 minutes and 30 seconds of serenity and peace for the people in the audience listening,” she says.

As a Black woman in the classical-music industry, Franklin acknowledges a lack of gender and racial diversity among performers. In 2019, she founded Compose Her, an organization that aims to employ more women in music and provide exposure through workshops, classes and more.

“My goal with Compose Her in the beginning was just to create more awareness about women in music, especially Black women in the classical musical field,” she says.

She appreciates being able to be a point of representation for fellow musicians and doesn’t shy away from shedding light on others — the National Sawdust concert featured music by all-women composers, a move intentionally done by Franklin.

“I think there has definitely been, historically, a gap for women being able to be seen in these roles as conductors and composers,” she says.

Nia Franklin works with Kyle Walker and Katherine Elizabeth on a new piece for violin and piano (photo from composeher.org)

As far as the performance with the Winston-Salem Symphony, Franklin describes it as a goal she didn’t even realize she had. Growing up, she wasn’t exposed to much classical music outside of the radio and television.

“I didn’t understand I could go to a live performance in my hometown,” she says.

She attributes this to a lack of awareness; however, that is why she does the work she does: to show others what’s possible. She hopes to see aspiring composers, brown faces and young faces in the room. It’s important to her to let them know the position she’s in is attainable for them, too.

“It’s so important to see someone that looks like you, even if you don’t know them personally, she says.

To go from never attending a symphony performance in her youth to now being a headliner, Franklin describes the opportunity as surreal.

“This is a dream come true to be able to say I’m doing a show with my hometown symphony,” she says.

Tickets for the performance with Winston-Salem Symphony are sold out; however, visit niaimani.com to listen to original compositions by Nia Imani Franklin. Learn more about Compose Her at composeher.org.

Join the First Amendment Society, a membership that goes directly to funding TCB‘s newsroom.

We believe that reporting can save the world.

The TCB First Amendment Society recognizes the vital role of a free, unfettered press with a bundling of local experiences designed to build community, and unique engagements with our newsroom that will help you understand, and shape, local journalism’s critical role in uplifting the people in our cities.

All revenue goes directly into the newsroom as reporters’ salaries and freelance commissions.

⚡ Join The Society ⚡