Two dynamic women – One magical night of music

Nia Franklin and Michelle Merrill

Two dynamic women – One magical night of music
May 10
16:32 2024

By Judie Holcomb-Pack

On Saturday, May 11, the Winston-Salem Symphony will present a concert that just may well be a historic event when two dynamic women – Michelle Merrill and Nia Franklin – join together in “At Last: Nia Imani Franklin.” 

A little more than one-third of symphony conductors are women and Winston-Salem is fortunate to have Michelle Merrill as the conductor of the Winston-Salem Symphony. Additionally, to have a symphony premiere a work of such a young woman – Nia is only 30 – is unusual. But to have Merrill and Franklin on stage together is sure to be magical.

Two DynamicWomen in Music

Michelle Merrill began her tenure with the Winston-Salem Symphony in the 2023/2024 concert season. Born in Dallas, Texas, she studied conducting with Dr. Paul C. Phillips at Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts, where she holds a master of music degree in conducting and a bachelor of music in performance.

Born in Winston-Salem, Nia Imani Franklin graduated from North Davidson High School, attended East Carolina University where she earned a degree in music composition, and then attended the University of North Carolina School of the Arts where she earned her master’s degree in music and composition. She is not only a composer, she is also a trained operatic soprano. 

This show is the culmination of Michelle Merrill’s first season with the symphony. After Nia’s first Winston-Salem Symphony concert in January 2022 at SECCA sold out, she began to plan a more extensive concert for a full-sized concert hall. The result is “At Last: Nia Imani Franklin” and she will sing “At Last,” an Etta James song, as the concert’s finale.

One magical night of music

Michelle said, “I love that we are featuring someone who is homegrown. Nia is so multifaceted and it has been wonderful working with her to bring this program to life. The songs speak to who she is, creating an authenticity that will make this concert even more special.”

“It is such a treat to be doing this, it is really my dream, to be able to perform with symphony orchestras,” said Nia.

She says to expect “a little bit of everything. I am blessed to have been exposed to so many styles of music and that influenced me.” She also loves modern gospel and will perform “I Love the Lord” by Whitney Houston and “Joyful Joyful.”   

Nia said that she curated songs that bring her joy and mean something to her life. The show will also feature some Broadway and R&B tunes, as well as her favorites from the American Songbook. She will be accompanied by the full Winston-Salem Symphony, along with Camel City Jazz, a small choir, and background singers. Expect to hear Broadway hits like “Being Good Isn’t Enough,” jazz standards like Gershwin’s “Embraceable You,” and soulful renditions of “I Say a Little Prayer for You.” She will also perform a selection from Puccini’s La boheme, which sealed the win for her 2019 Miss America title.

Nia mentioned how excited she is to work again with Michelle. “I have worked with her in selecting songs and I’ve watched her conduct several times, but this is the first time having her conduct me,” said Nia. “It’s exciting to collaborate with her.”

Michelle added, “I am proud that we could collaborate with orchestrated versions of classic songs with almost universal appeal. Nia can take this show to other cities, and the Winston-Salem Symphony will be able to say that it started here on the Reynolds Auditorium stage.”

“Fantaisie Dépassée,” Nia’s new piece, will be premiered at Saturday’s concert. “It’s not every day you have a symphony that plays your songs,” said Nia. “They have really embraced me.”

To have her music performed by the symphony in her hometown has been a dream of Nia’s since she was young

Of the success she’s achieved so far, Nia said she leans on the words from Ephesians 3:20, “God will do exceedingly abundantly above all you can ask or think.”  

“At Last: Nia Imani Franklin” will be presented on Saturday, May 11, at 7:30 p.m. at Reynolds Auditorium, 301 N. Hawthorne Road. Tickets start at $29 and can be purchased online at or by calling the box office at 336-464-0145.

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