Deborah Cheetham, Yorta Yorta woman, soprano, composer and educator has been a leader and pioneer in the Australian arts landscape for more than 25 years. In the 2014 Queen’s Birthday Honours List, Cheetham was appointed as an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO), for “distinguished service to the performing arts as an opera singer, composer and artistic director, to the development of Indigenous artists, and to innovation in performance”.
In 2009, Deborah Cheetham established Short Black Opera as a national not-for-profit opera company devoted to the development of Indigenous singers. The following year she produced the premiere of her first opera Pecan Summer. This landmark work was Australia’s first Indigenous opera and has been a vehicle for the development of a new generation of Indigenous opera singers.
In March 2015 she was inducted onto the Honour Roll of Women in Victoria and in April 2018 received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of South Australia for her pioneering work and achievements in the music.
Ms Cheetham’s Eumeralla, a war requiem for peace, premiered to sold out audiences on-country at the Port Fairy Spring Festival in October 2018 and at Hamer Hall in Melbourne with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra on June 15, 2019.
Deborah Cheetham’s list of commissions for major Australian ensembles continues to grow including works for the Victorian Opera, Sydney Philharmonia Choir, Orchestra Victoria, Melbourne ensemble, Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Australia String Quartet, West Australian Symphony Orchestra String Quartet, Rubiks Collective, Plexus Ensemble, the Goldner Quartet and Flinders Quartet.
In 2019 Deborah Cheetham established the One Day in January project designed to develop and nurture Indigenous orchestral musicians. In this same year she received the Sir Bernard Heinze Memorial Award for service to music in Australia, the Merlyn Myer Prize for Composition, was inducted onto the Victorian Aboriginal Honour Roll and received Life Time Membership at the Melbourne Recital Centre.
Deborah was the 2019 winner of the prestigious Melbourne Prize for Music and was named Limelight Magazine’s Critics Choice Artist of the Year.
In 2020 Deborah Cheetham was the 2020 Composer-in-residence for the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and commenced her appointment at the Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music, Monash University as Professor of Music practice.
In 2021 Deborah Cheetham began a five year appointed as First Nations Chair of Melbourne Symphony orchestra.
Deborah Cheetham was the 2020 recipient of the JC Williamson Life Time Achievement Award which recognises an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to the Australian live entertainment and performing arts industry, and helped to shape the future of our industry for the better.