In 2013, the University of Chicago created a new program, supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, that would provide a permanent home for world-class musicians at the University of Chicago. Named for University of Chicago President Emeritus Don Randel, the residency program enables deep engagement between exceptional visiting musical ensembles and UChicago faculty, students and staff.
Randel, a noted musicologist, served as president of the University of Chicago from 2000-2006, when he took over as president of the Mellon Foundation. Upon his retirement in 2013, the foundation awarded the grant for the Ensemble-in-Residence in recognition to Randel's sustained and inspired advocacy of the value of music in a liberal arts education, as well as his transformational leadership for the arts and humanities throughout his career in academia and philanthropy.
The GRAMMY Award-winning Pacifica Quartet, which had long been a resident ensemble of the Department of Music and UChicago Presents, became the first Don Michael Randel Ensemble-in-Residence. In addition to performances on the Contempo series and through UChicago Presents, the quartet presented workshops for students and visited classes, sharing their expertise with both undergraduate and graduate students.
When the University bid farewell to Pacifica in 2016, a new ensemble, Imani Winds, was welcomed to the position for two years. The Imanis became beloved by both students and community members for their vibrant performances of new and existing music, and their brought their experience and expertise to the community as well, coaching students at the UChicago Laboratory School and collaborating with locally rooted artists and ensembles.
In 2018, the award-winning a cappella group Sweet Honey In The Rock, known as much for its artistic output as for its political message and its members activism, joined the University for a one year tenure, and in fall 2019, the University welcomes the Puerto Rican plena and bomba ensemble Plena Libre. During the 2019-20 academic year, Plena Libre will visit campus for three residency weeks, offering public performances, including one with the University Symphony Orchestra, participating in luncheons and panel discussions, visiting music and Spanish language classes, participating in workshops with UChicago composers, performing for plena and bomba dance workshops, and more. See a full list of events on the ensemble's page on the Music Deparment website.