John Chenault is a librarian, educator, writer, poet, playwright, and librettist. He is the author of two poetry collections, Blue Blackness (1969), and The Invisible Man Returns (1992)), and his work has appeared in literary journals and anthologies. He also has written for magazines and newspapers, and was a columnist and section editor for Artrage Magazine in London, England.
Chenault, a Cincinnati native, began his performing arts career in 1967 with the New Theater of Cincinnati. From "techie" to actor, playwright, and producer, he has been involved in dozens of productions behind and on the stage. His playwriting credits include: Blood Ritual, Stolen Moments, The X-periment, and Young Men Grow Older, a television drama that received the National Conference of Christian and Jews Brotherhood Award and was nominated for an Emmy Award for Community Television.
During the late 1960s Chenault studied African and Afro-Cuban percussion with Flash Ford and Alfred Smith, and performed with the Black Arts Ensemble (BAS). The percussion group Sunship, which he co-founded with Fahali Igbo, Matt Gibson, Naim Singleton, and Steve Neil in 1972, grew out of the BAS. From 1974-76 he continued his music studies at Antioch College with musicologist and composer Karl Berger. In 1977 he formed the Zamani Band in Washington, D.C. with Joseph Kennedy and Phil Osborn.
In addition to his work in the arts, Chenault has had a diverse career in education. He has earned graduate degrees in Library and Information Science and Pan African Studies, and has taught African American Studies at the University of Cincinnati, Beacon College, and Washington International College, where he was executive dean (1978-1982). He currently is an assistant professor at the Kornhauser Health Sciences Library at the University of Louisville (UofL), and a lecturer in the Pan African Studies Department in the UofL College of Arts & Sciences. His areas of research in medical librarianship include developing new methods to instruct medical students and professionals in database research, citation management, and web-based technology. In 2011, he started a service-learning project to provide library training and instruction in Tamale, Ghana in conjunction with the School of Public Health and Information Science at UofL. His primary area of research in Pan African Studies is the history of the African Diaspora. His recent work on the European Slave Trade has involved documenting slave routes and slave forts in Senegal and Ghana, West Africa. He is in the process of conducting similar research projects involving the African Diaspora in Central America and the Caribbean.
Chenault met bassist/composer Frank Proto in 1993 and began a successful partnership that has produced a series of compositions and recordings for orchestra, jazz band and chamber ensemble. They have received commissions from the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, American Composers Forum, University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music (CCM), International Society of Bassists, and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. In 2008 Chenault and Proto received a commission from the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center and the University of Maryland (UM) School of Music Opera Studio to write an opera based on the life of legendary heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis. Directed by Leon Major, and conducted by Timothy Long, Shadowboxer premiered on April 17, 2010, at the Clarice Smith Center for the Performing Arts, at the University of Maryland, College Park. Since Chenault and Proto began their collaboration nearly twenty years ago, their work has been performed throughout the U.S., and in Canada, England, Germany and France.
Chenault is planning to begin a doctorate degree program in Pan African Studies in 2012 at the University of Louisville. He also is constantly seeking new opportunities to collaborate with Frank Proto that will enable them to continue to explore and redefine the ways in which music and words can combine in performance.
For a list of Chenaut's works with Frank Proto click here.