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December 26, 2021

10 Memorable Moments of 2021


Watch a personal message to UMS audiences from actor and Digital Residency Artist Wendell Pierce.

What a year it has been. As we reflect on the challenges and triumphs of 2021, we want to acknowledge all that you — our loyal audiences and supporters — have helped make possible. From digital world premieres enjoyed worldwide to the safe return of live performances at our iconic University of Michigan venues, here are 10 Memorable Moments of 2021:

Some Old Black Man set
Some Old Black Man

UMS began the year with an exciting debut to our Digital Artist Residencies. Some Old Black Man was created while the creative team, which included actors Wendell Pierce and the late Charlie Robinson, director Joe Cacaci, playwright James Anthony Tyler, and stage manager Tiffany Robinson, lived in a “quarantine bubble” in Ann Arbor.

The filmed play premiered in January 2020 and brought UMS national and international press from National Public Radio, The Times of London, and The Guardian. It had nearly 30,000 views, with audiences from all 50 states and 65 countries.

Swing University
Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Swing University

We offered Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra’s “Swing University” in January with nearly 100 exploring the roots of jazz in four major cities across the US. The program, offered in partnership with Ann Arbor’s Department of Recreation & Education, was so popular that we developed a second series of four classes all focused on Detroit in April; it was sold out before the first session.

Tunde Olaniran
Tunde Olaniran Live Session

For their Digital Artist Residency, Tunde Olaniran has been creating a series of experimental performance works designed to coincide with the release of singles from an upcoming mixtape and sharing their creative process along the way. In May 2021, UMS streamed an exclusive Live Session with Tunde and collaborators, filmed at El Club in Detroit.

Digital Pride

In June 2021, UMS presented its first ever Digital Pride festival with performances from Becca Blackwell, Conspirare: A Company of Voices, and Taylor Mac. We also highlighted LGBTQ+ Icons Past & Present at UMS, recognizing the LGBTQ+ artists who have been integral to UMS 143 year history.

You Can Dance – Outside! Cecelia Benvenutti
You Can Dance—Outside!

UMS was proud to bring back You Can Dance – Outside!, with classes at Riverside Park in Ypsilanti and Wheeler Park in Ann Arbor. Instructors Celia Benvenutti,Shantese Robinson, and Heather Mitchell lead dynamic dance experiences exploring styles from across the African Diaspora.

A Travel Guide for Talking Hearts
U-M Arts Initiative

Not long before COVID-19 shuttered performance venues, President Mark Schlissel and the University of Michigan announced the startup phase of an Arts Initiative. During the 2021, UMS was closely involved with the initial activities of the Arts Initiative, including serving on the steering committee for and producing the Arts Initiative launch event, A Travel Guide for Talking Hearts, with Yo-Yo Ma, local artists and students from all three U-M campuses.

Fall 2021 Digital Artist Residencies
Fall Digital Artist Residencies

The fall of 2021 saw the culmination of three different digital artist residency projects, Cleo Parker Robinson Dance’s Documentary The Making of ‘The Four Journeys’, the digital world premiere of a new work for the Spektral Quartet by Lebanese-American composer and pianist Tarek Yamani, and Brian Lobel’s project 24 Italian Songs and Arias (+ Voices).

Jazz at Lincoln Center SDP Volunteers
Staying Connected with Our Volunteers

Each of UMS’s volunteer groups, including our Ushers, Ambassadors, Choral Union, Student Committee, and POST team, were active throughout 2021. The efforts of these groups were instrumental in sharing digital programs with our audiences and returning to stages. All of us at UMS are perpetually thankful for their passion and commitment.

School Day Performance
School Day Performances

In 2021, UMS presented seven Digital School Day Performances reaching an estimate of 20,000+ students, exceeding the in-person venue capacity that would have been available for these performances.

In December, Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra welcomed students back to Hill Auditorium for our return to in-person School Day Performances with Big Band Holidays.

2021 Live Performances
Return to Live Events

In the Fall of 2021, UMS eagerly returned to presenting live, in-person performances, opening our season with a recital from world-renowned tenor Jonas Kaufmann. Over the next two months, UMS followed with presentations of the Jazz at Lincoln Center with Wynton Marsalis, the Takács Quartet with Julien Labro, and Handel’s Messiah.

Thank you for your loyal support to UMS over the past year and throughout the pandemic! We wish you a happy and safe New Year, and look forward to seeing you soon in 2022.

To make a year-end contribution, visit

For more reflections of the 2020/21 season, view our 2021 annual report.

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