KAREN CHILTON is a New York-based Writer & Actor. A native of Chicago’s Southside, Ms. Chilton received her M.F.A. in Dramatic Writing from NYU Tisch School of the Arts and an undergraduate degree in Economics from Bradley University. She has extensive musical training from The Chicago Conservatory of Music in classical piano and has studied abroad as an America Field Service (AFS) international exchange student in the Dominican Republic.
Ms. Chilton is the author of the critically-acclaimed biography HAZEL SCOTT: THE PIONEERING JOURNEY OF A JAZZ PIANIST FROM CAFÉ SOCIETY TO HOLLYWOOD TO HUAC (University of Michigan Press). JAZZ TIMES wrote: "Perhaps the highest compliment one can pay to this fine biography is that during the first 150 pages the reader is wondering why Scott isn’t better known, at least in the jazz world. But by the story’s end…the same reader knows exactly why, but is still likely to be singing her praises as a true trailblazer in African-American culture." Chilton was awarded a month-long writer’s residency at the Millay Colony for the Arts to support her work on the book, and named the Tracy and Leo Maitland Fellow following her residency.
She is also the co-author of I WISH YOU LOVE, the jazz memoir of legendary vocalist, Gloria Lynne (St. Martin’s Press). The autobiography was a critical success, receiving an outstanding review from the industry journal, PUBLISHERS WEEKLY, which stated: “Full of gossip, exclamation and vernacular, it’s a book that demands to be read out loud. This is a moving tribute to the crucible of Harlem jazz.” Her essay on blues legend Bessie Smith appears in AIN’T NOTHING LIKE THE REAL THING: How the Apollo Theater Shaped American Entertainment (Smithsonian Books). Her contribution to AIN'T BUT A FEW OF US: Black Music Writers Tell Their Story, edited by author/jazz scholar, Willard Jenkins (Duke University Press) will be published in late summer 2022.
Recent commissions include a new adaptation of Scott Joplin's seminal opera TREEMONISHA which will open the 2023 season at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis. Composed by Damien Sneed, Ms. Chilton's libretto will be a expanded edition of the original text featuring Justin Austin (baritone) and Brandie Sutton (soprano) as "Treemonisha." This opera follows their critically-acclaimed collaboration, the chamber opera THE TONGUE & THE LASH based on the 1965 James Baldwin v. William F. Buckley, Jr. Cambridge debate which premiered in Opera Theatre of Saint Louis' 2021 New Voices/New Works festival. From BROADWAY WORLD: "...perfectly structured opera...a wonderfully poignant memory when ideas not just mottos and bumper-stickers guided political debate." A feature article on Damien Sneed, written by Karen Chilton appears in the June 2022 issue of OPERA NEWS.
Additionally, she will be the script writer of a new podcast produced by America 250 and PRX Media in commemoration of the nation's 250th anniversary.
Her dramatic works for the stage include: HEIRLOOM (Semi-Finalist- O'NEILL NATIONAL PLAYWRIGHTS CONFERENCE 2019), AFRODISIAC (Or Let My People Flow!), a play with music centered on voter suppression (Finalist for the 2020 Goldberg Prize); CONVERGENCE, winner of the New Professional Theatre Writers Festival; SAYING GRACE, a solo performance piece performed in the Women of Color Theater Festival at New York’s landmark theater, Henry Street Settlement. Her short plays (SWITCH! and BLUE CASSIUS) have been produced in the Obie award-winning theater festivals 48 hours in Harlem & The Fire This Time. She is currently a playwriting fellow with the Liberation Theatre Company (2020-2021) where she has begun work on a new full-length play, RIGAMAROLE. Her short play BROTHERMINE is part of Plowshares Theatre Company's NEW GRIOT FESTIVAL with staged readings planned for August/Sept 2021.
Other works-in-progress include: DARLING OF CAFÉ SOCIETY The Life & Music of Hazel Scott, the screenplay adaptation of the biography which in currently in negotiations. Additionally, in honor of Hazel Scott's centennial year, she is curating a series of events throughout 2022-2023 for Washington Performing Arts (Wash. DC).
In March 2020, the Apollo Theatre produced DARLING OF CAFE SOCIETY, A Centennial Celebration of Hazel Scott with guest artists: Damien Sneed (piano) and Camille Thurman (saxophone/vocals), narration by Karen Chilton. The performance was live streamed as part of the 2021 International Women of the World Festival (WOW). The performance was commissioned by the March on Washington Film Festival (MOWFF) and was live-streamed as part of their 2022 Black History Month programming.
Ms. Chilton wrote the libretto for THE SOUL NOW SINGS in collaboration with pianist Damien Sneed; a commission for New York Public Radio (WNYC/WQXR) and produced before a live audience by The Greene Space; the work was part of their holiday programming and was broadcast on Christmas Day.
She collaborated on the text adaptation for MIGRATION RHAPSODY: An Aleotoric Exploration of the Journey North through Music, Poetry and Personal Narrative with WNYC/WQXR classical radio host, Terrance McKnight--commissioned by The Musuem of Modern Art
(MOMA) in honor of the 75th anniversary of renown painter Jacob Lawrence's seminal work The Migration Series.
Ms. Chilton’s acting credits include the New York stage, episodic television as well as featured roles in numerous independent films. She was featured in IT’S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY (FOCUS) directed by Ryan Fleck, featuring Zach Galifianakis. She was a principal in the indie release, INSIDE A CHANGE, winner of the HBO Latino Film Festival, directed by Rik Cordero. Her supporting role in the award-winning independent film, HALF NELSON, directed by Ryan Fleck and starring Ryan Gosling garnered outstanding reviews in the U.S. and abroad. “Karen Chilton projects limitless compassion and depth…” wrote INDIEwire. Critic Andrew Sarris wrote in The New York Observer: “The key to the direction of all the performances is tactful restraint and nuanced modulation. This applies to…Karen Chilton.” She was also a principle in the short film version of that feature, GOWANUS, BROOKLYN, winner of the 2004 Sundance Film Festival Short Film Jury Prize. For her lead role in the film short, STRUGGLE, she received New York Magazine’s First Run Film Festival Craft Award for Acting. The film is based on the 1970s police interrogation of black civil rights activist, Assata Shakur; it was also screened at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival and has won numerous awards.
An award-winning narrator and voiceover artist, her voice can be heard on numerous national network television, radio and internet advertising campaigns. She has narrated dozens of audiobooks, including GRACE WILL LEAD US HOME: The Charleston Church Massacre and the Hard, Inspiring Journey to Forgiveness by Jennifer Berry Hawes (winner of the 2020 Audie Award) and THE NEW JIM CROW by Michelle Alexander. She is the recipient of Audiofile Magazine's Golden Earphones Award for her performance of Robert Jones, Jr.'s critically-acclaimed debut novel, THE PROPHETS, A MARCH AGAINST FEAR by Ann Bausum and I’VE GOT A HOME IN GLORY LAND by Karolyn Smardz. Other recent audiobook narration includes: A KNOCK AT MIDNIGHT by Brittany K. Barnett, THE OTHER MADISONS by Bettye Kearse, and LIFTING AS WE CLIMB by Evette Dionne.
Her affiliations include membership in the Screen Actors Guild/American Federation of Television & Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), Actors Equity Association (AEA), The Dramatists Guild, Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), The Toni Morrison Society, and New York Women in Film & Television (NYWIFT).