Chi-chi Nwanoku


Historical Performance - Double Bass

Principal Double Bass with the Chineke! Orchestra

Studied at the Royal Academy of Music; now teaches historical double bass at the Royal Academy

Broadcaster for BBC TV and Radio

Writes occasional blog entries on music and culture for The Guardian

An ex-sprinter, Chi-chi Nwanoku has gained a reputation as one of the finest exponents of her instrument today.

The eldest of five children from Nigerian and Irish parents, Chi-chi was seven when she discovered the piano at a neighbour’s. She returned to their house daily to play until the neighbours got so fed up they wheeled the piano up the road and gave it to her! Meanwhile, she was spotted by an athletics coach and trained as a 100-metre sprinter, eventually competing at National level. This career ended abruptly due to a knee injury aged 18, which is when (and why) she took up the double bass and actively pursued a career in music. She studied at the Royal Academy of Music and with Franco Petracchi in Rome, and soon found herself in demand internationally.

Chi-chi is the Founder, Artistic and Executive Director of the Chineke! Foundation, which supports, inspires and encourages Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) classical musicians working in the UK and Europe. The Chineke! Foundation celebrates diversity in the classical music industry through its two orchestras, the Chineke! Orchestra and Chineke! Junior Orchestra, as well as its educational and outreach work. Ultimately, the Chineke! Foundation aims to give classical BME musicians a platform on which to excel, and by such methods increase the representation of BME musicians in British and European orchestras.

Chi-chi was a founder member of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and was Principal double bass there for over 30 years. She is Professor at the Royal Academy of Music, where she was made a Fellow in 1998.

In 2012 Barrie Gavin directed a documentary film about Chi-chi’s career, Tales from the Bass Line.

As a broadcaster, Chi-chi presented BBC Radio 3 Requests for four years, she guests for the TV Proms and was Jury member of BBC 2 TV Classical Star. She presented a two-part series for BBC Radio 4 in 2015 which brought to life the stories and music of black composers and musicians from the 18th century, whose vivid presence on the classical music scene have slipped through the net. Chi-chi was the ‘mentor’ for the 2016 BBC 4 TV series All Together Now, the Great Orchestra Challenge. Chi-chi is featured in the BBC Radio 4 series Only Artists and was Kirsty Young’s guest on BBC Radio 4, Desert Island Discs in February 2018.

Chi-chi is a trustee of the London Music Fund, Tertis Foundation and a Council Member of the Royal Philharmonic Society. Past Boards include the Association of British Orchestras (ABO) and National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain. She created the ABO/RPS Salomon Prize, which celebrates the ‘unsung heroes’ working in the ranks of British orchestras.

Chi-chi was awarded an OBE in 2017 and the MBE in 2001 for Services to Music in the Queen’s Birthday honours. She was one of the 100 – Happy List in the Independent on Sunday 2011. In 2016 she was appointed as an Honorary Fellow of Trinity Laban Conservatoire in recognition of her ‘pioneering contribution to music, in particular the inspiration she provides, the commitment she has shown, and the contribution she has made to addressing inequalities within classical music in the UK, most recently through the Chineke! Foundation.

Chi-chi was awarded the Black British Business Awards, Person of the Year 2016 and was the recipient of the ABO Award 2017, which is awarded for ‘the most important contribution to the orchestral life of the UK’. In 2018 she was named in the Top 10 of the BBC Woman’s Hour, Women in Music Power List, and won the inaugural Commonwealth Cultural Enterprise Award for Women in the Arts at the Commonwealth Business Women’s Awards. She also won the Creative Industries Award at the Variety Catherine Awards and was made an Honorary Doctor Music at the University of Chichester.

She is featured in the Royal Academy of Music exhibition Hitting the Right Note: Amazing Women of the Academy. She has also been voted to the Powerlist of Britain’s 100 Most Influential Black People 2019. 


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