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Columbia College Chicago
Alumni Profiles

Alumni Profiles

Founded in 1965, the Music Department has worked with an incredible array of talented, skilled and creative students. Our alumni enjoy careers as composers, musicians, performers, teachers and artists, and work throughout various industries.

 Cover from Nicole Garza's album Reinvented

Nicole Garza
Vocal PerforMance BA, 2008

Nicole Garza released her breakthrough EP, Reinvented, in 2011, which was titled as such for the two songs "Wish I Knew" and "Call Me What U Want," both rearrangements from her debut CD Versatility, as well as the reinvention of herself as an artist, songwriter, and producer. This EP consists of the two rearrangements and five new and powerful songs. This CD was ranked in the Top 10 releases of 2011 in Chicagoland, and the Top 5 R&B releases worldwide.

Learn more about Garza's work online at www.nicolegarza.com

Cover image credits: photo by Chris Jacobs, graphic design by Chase Talon Dunlop

Anthony Bracco

Anthony Bracco
Contemporary, Urban and Pop (CUP) BM, 2009

Anthony Bracco developed as a self-taught musician and then entered Columbia College to study the guitar, graduating with a degree in the school’s first class of Contemporary, Urban, and Pop Music. Making an early career as a freelance live and studio guitarist, Bracco was a member of projects ranging in genre from rap, gospel, rock, jazz, traditional European, and American folk. He has performed at Chicago's Jazz Fest and shared the stage with many successful local and national artists such as The Chicago Jazz Ensemble, Fred Wesley, Psalm One, and Sidewalk Chalk, and has played many of Chicago's premier venues such as The Jazz Showcase, Shubas, The Double Door, The Harris Theatre, and more. 

Bracco is currently an instructor in the Music department of Columbia College of Chicago.

Photo credit: Dani Schafer, Music Department

LaShera Zenise Moore

LaShera Zenise Moore
Vocal Performance BA, 2012

LaShera Zenise Moore is a freelance songstress, vocal coach and graduate from Columbia College Chicago where she received her degree in Vocal Performance. At Columbia, she proved herself to be the go-to singer for any style needed, from Country, Pop, Rock, Jazz, Gospel, Blues and R&B and Soul. Her versatility has created opportunities to perform with New York Voices (along with Darmon Meader and Peter Eldridge), Buddy Guy, Koko Taylor, Mavis Staples, Brian Culbertson, Wycliffe Gordan and other professional musicians.

She is currently a teaching artist and mentor at Youth Company Chicago and singing with The Forte Band with Chris Forte, The Keelan Jones Experience, Beast Women Productions, and her own band, LaShera Zenise and the Soulful Experience. LaShera has performed at the Chicago’s Blues Fest 2012 along with her blues mentor, Fernando Jones and was a featured soloist in I’ll Take You There: Homage to Blues and Gospel, with Bobbi Wilsyn and other distinguished Columbia music faculty, alumni and local artists.

Learn more about Moore's work online at portfolio.colum.edu/lasheramoore or lazsherazenise.virb.com

Photo credit: Cameron Derby, Photography BA, 2012

Sam Cerniglia

Sam Cerniglia
Contemporary, Urban and Pop (CUP) BM, 2010

Sam Cerniglia studied classically with Carlos Seise throughout his four-year, high school career. He studied Vocal Performance at Central Michigan University for two years and finished his Bachelor’s of Music at Columbia College Chicago, where his focus shifted from opera to contemporary and popular music.

Sam has had the privilege of working with artists such as: Lonnie Brooks, Ivan Neville, Joan Osborne, Koko Taylor, Paquito D’Rivera, and many more. His performances include participating in a 200-member collegiate chorus and smaller ensembles performing Blues, R&B, Pop, Jazz, as well as original music. Presently, Sam sings with the Eden Orchestra and the Green Company in Chicago, and is elated to have auditioned on Season 5 of NBC's The Voice and to join Blake Shelton's team.

Learn more about Cerniglia's work online at www.samcerniglia.com

Photo credit: Ryan Cain Photography

 Martez Rucker

Martez Rucker
Vocal Jazz BA, 2007

Martez L. Rucker is an acclaimed vocalist, pianist, composer, and arranger. As a performer, he has displayed his skills in world-renowned venues, both domestically and internationally, with the likes of Stefon Harris, Fred Hersch, Lyle Mays, Donny McCaslin, Ben Street, Cyrus Chestnut, and others. His arrangements have been featured at many festivals and convocations, including the international Polyfollia Choral Festival in 2009, and have been appreciated by Barry Harris, Kurt Elling, and New York Voices, who continue to commission his works.

Martez currently serves on the voice, piano, and jazz faculty of Columbia College Chicago, where he is the director of the award-winning vocal jazz ensemble ChicagoVox, as well as the Jazz/Pop Choirs. As Christian McBride puts it, "This cat knows what he's doing.

Learn more about Rucker's work online at www.martezlrucker.com

Photo credit: Gundrun Georges

Sarah Marie Young

Sarah Marie Young
Vocal Performance BA, 2008

Singer/songwriter Sarah Marie Young (BA ’08) brings her unique award-winning blend of Jazz, R&B, and Folk to any stage. Veteran of the 2012 Chicago Jazz Festival (opening for Allen Toussaint) and the 2012 Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland (opening for Paco De Lucia) after winning the 2011 Shure Vocal Competition, Sarah Marie also earned a spot as a semifinalist in The Smithsonian Institute 2010 Monk Jazz Voice Competition.

Schooled at Columbia College Chicago's music school under the tutelage of Bobbi Wilsyn, she’s become known in Jazz and R&B circles across the nation as the singer with the “intoxicating voice” (Eric Schelkopf, The Total Scene). Now a staple on the Chicago jazz scene at places like Andy's, Room 43, The Jazz Showcase, Catch 35 and M Lounge, she’s also making a name for herself at the Rockwood Music Hall and The Bowery Electric in NYC. Her newly released first full length album,“Too Many Februaries”, was recorded at Balik Farm Studios in Toggenberg, Switzerland.

Learn more about Young's work online at www.sarahmarieyoung.com

Photo credit: Bryan Thompson, Graffiti Photography

 Jonathan McReynolds

Jonathan McReynolds
Contemporary, Urban and Pop (CUP) BM, 2011

In 2007, Jonathan McReynolds pursued a degree in Urban and Popular Music at Columbia College in Chicago. In his junior year, his life changed forever. He put together a few songs and created a CD called The Very Unofficial EP of Jonathan McReynolds to give as Christmas gifts to his family. “I got a good response from them and also from friends coming in and out of my dorm room who were just hanging out and listening to my stuff.”

This served as the impetus for his album, Life Music, which opened at #3 on the BILLBOARD charts. It also was #98 on the Billboard 200 and can be found in select stores, on iTunes and all online retailers. This album included the Christian hit "I Love You" which landed him a GMA Dove Nomination for Urban/Contemporary Song of the Year.

Learn more about McReynolds' work online at www.jonathanmcreynolds.com

Photo credit: Ronald Cadiz Photography, NYC

 Rob Ballmaier

Rob Ballmaier
Composition BM, 2006

Multi instrumentalist, composer and producer, Rob Ballmaier has been working in the Chicago music scene since graduation. He has toured the country with various artists such as Howie Day, Brian Vander Ark (The Verve Pipe), Jackie Greene, G Love and Special Sauce. Currently, Ballmaier is playing mandolin in the Chicago-based rockabilly-blue grass group, Blasted Heath and is working as the band's producer on their upcoming EP. Over the summer of 2013, Rob was an integral part of organizing and performing at West Side Soul, a benefit for the Dvorak Technical Academy, which sold out Schubas and raised over $2,500 for CPS music education.

Ballmaierhas been an adjunct faculty member at Columbia College Music for 7 years teaching in the core curriculum. Rob also co-wrote the new Fall 2013 course, Music Prep.

Photo credit: Kat Keers, Vocal Jazz BA, 2006