At the age of seven, Joshua Mhoon shocked his music teacher and his parents by playing one of the fundamentals of piano. The fact that this third grader, with no prior training, read, understood then played a G scale perfectly at his first attempt would foretell a future in which Joshua and the Ivories would become best friends, confidants and soul mates.
As is the case with most successes, Joshua’s first attempt at music was a failure. His parents took him to receive a trial guitar lesson, but his hands were too small to fit around the neck of the instrument. His next choice was piano and when he sat down at the piano and found his sweet spot, fingers dancing across the keys, speeding through classical repertoire at a pace expected of experienced experts, not an inexperienced kid.
“I have never come across a child that learns that fast,” Dr. Harry Steckman, Mhoon’s first piano instructor, said in a segment about Mhoon on CBS News. Word of Joshua’s extraordinary talent spread like wild fire, first through his hometown of Chicago, but soon through America and the world.
Less than a year after his first lesson, Mhoon found himself flying through complex compositions and winning city and state piano competitions. As astonished supporters began to recognize Mhoon’s talent, he began to enter more competitions, often dominating in his categories. In 2011, 2012, and 2014, Mhoon won first place in Illinois’ Grandquist Music Competition. Additionally, in 2014, he won first place in a Merit Music Conservatory Scholarship competition. Mhoon also won honors awards at the National Federation of Music’s Junior Music Festival two years in a row.
He refused to be intimidated by the highly competitive classical music world. His love of melody and effort at understanding and connecting to the stories of the lives and often difficult journeys of the Great Piano Masters served as inspiration and motivation. The piano became one of Joshua’s best friends rewarding his dedicated friendship with First place prizes in the DePaul National Concerto Competition, The Walgreens National Concerto Competition’s Senior and Junior divisions. He continued to compete, winning first place in the Emilio del Rosario Comcetto competition, SAVLER Competition, and CAMTA Sonata Festival.
The world was astonished at this young kid who played like an experienced elder. The news media, flooded with negative stories, reached out to Joshua and the powerful positivity that this young African American pianist represented. Here was a child bringing hope to the world through his music, his hard work, and lush performances. Here was a young man making a statement of unifying inclusiveness and reminding us of the role that music has always played in our world culture.
These accomplishments, many of which took place early in his piano career, earned Mhoon the attention of multiple publications including The Chicago Sun Times, Jet Magazine, Oak Park’s Daily Journal, Hamptons digital publication, The Patch, Rolling Out, The Daily Herald, Musical America, and the U- High Midway. TV Shows shared with their audiences the powerful visual elements of Joshua’s style, internal rhythms, and fingering expertise in segments on PBS’s Chicago Tonight, CBS’s Someone You Should Know, Viennese National Television, Redbull TV, and The Mozart on Japanese National Television.
He was repeatedly asked to return to perform on one of Chicago’s top rated television talk shows ABC’s Windy City Live. His radio performances became extremely popular as he played and spoke of his love of piano on popular radio shows including the Cliff Kelly Show on WVON with it’s mostly African American audience. He was also popular with larger ethnically diverse audiences appearing in multiple episodes on Chicago’s classical music station WFMT. He was featured in a segment on WFMT’s Introductions Program and appeared comfortably on multiple talk radio programs including Richard Steele’s program on Chicago National Public Radio’s WBEZ.
By the time he was in junior high school Joshua had begun to study with some of the world’s best known music instructors, each teaching various musical skill sets along the way.
His first lessons took place in Oak Park at the Steckman Studio of Music with Dr. Harry Steckman. He then moved on to study with Mio Isoda-Hagle at Chicago’s Merit School of Music; Alexander Djordjevic and Brenda Huang at the Music Institute of Chicago. Currently, at the age of 17 Joshua is studying at Northwestern University’s Bienen School of Music with the school’s renowned Director of Musical Performance, Dr. James Giles.
Outside of classical music studies Joshua has also studied jazz and spontaneous creation/composition with jazz legends Willie Pickens and Steve Million. He is currently studying jazz with Miles Davis’s former music director Bobby Irving III. Joshua is also mentored by world-renowned pianist Lang Lang and principal clarinetist of the New York Philharmonic Anthony McGill, who made history by becoming the first black man to be first chair in a major orchestra. Both of of these well known and accomplished artists have taken Joshua under their musical wings allowing his talent to grow immensely. He has also studied chamber music with all three members of the GRAMMY nominated Lincoln Trio. He has been a student at the Music Institute of Chicago, the Merit School of Music, Midwest Young Artists and at the Weill Music Institute of Carnegie Hall.
Now, nine years after his first lesson, Mhoon’s talent has provided him with opportunities of immeasurable value. He now boasts an impressive repertoire, having played for worldwide audiences in Japan, England, France, Greece, Turkey, Austria, Spain and Italy, has performed on several tours in Germany.
Mhoon has also had the chance to work with well-recognized celebrities, opening up for the Jacksons, Ramsey Lewis and Nick Cannon. He has played alongside Yo Yo-Ma, Lang Lang, Anthony McGill, and Gil Shaham at an impressive number of venues, including the Jazz at Lincoln Center, Stern Hall at Carnegie Hall, Steinway Hall, Chicago Symphony Hall, New World Symphony Center, and the Musikverein. Many of these performances have gained Mhoon the attention of well-known musicians, providing him with additional exposure to the music industry.
Along with the worldwide audiences he’s played for, Mhoon has had various opportunities to showcase his abilities locally in Chicago, demonstrating a sense of pride in his hometown. Most recently, Mhoon had the privilege of performing at Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s inauguration, a historic event that gained thousands of viewers on television and live attendance at the city’s Wintrust Arena. Additionally, his other performances in his city include a halftime show at a Chicago Bulls game, a performance for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and China’s Vice Premier at the Harris theater; performances at the Navy Pier, Ganz Hall, The Studebaker theater, Pritzker Pavillion, Pianoforte, and Bennet Gordon Hall at the Ravinia Festival.
Today, Mhoon’s influences include artists such as Beethoven, Rachmaninov, Liszt, Bach, Kapustin, Stravinsky, Vladamir Horowitz, Lang Lang, Emil Gilels, as well as more modern artists like Michael Jackson, Miles Davis, Kanye West, Chance the Rapper, and Outkast. He often finds himself performing mashups of the genres of his favorite contemporaries, hoping to foster an appreciation of classical music in other teenagers and to reach a larger demographic of people overall.
Mhoon is currently a student at Chicago’s Whitney Young Magnet High School as well as a member of MENSA International, the largest and best known high IQ society in the world. Although he has pursued a few other hobbies, including learning foreign languages, practicing sports, and investing in the stock market, above all else, Mhoon loves listening, playing, and creating music. As he said in a 2016 interview with WTTW, “I definitely want to make music my life.”
Now, four years later, at the age of 17, it is clear that Joshua Mhoon has done exactly that.