Singleton's music is soulful, with an understated simplicity that I particularly prize. Despite the studied economy of his means and the set character of his images, the music is never cold ... nor abstract. It glows with warmth, it hovers in the air, it paces itself with a glacial but palpably intuitive momentum. It refuses to pander to either academicism or populism, but is so honest and self-assured that listeners flock to it anyway.
– Kyle Gann, Chamber Music Magazine
Alvin Singleton was born in Brooklyn, New York and completed his studies at New York University and Yale. As a Fulbright Scholar, he studied with Goffredo Petrassi at Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome, Italy. After living and working in Europe for 14 years, Singleton returned to the United States to become Composer-in-Residence with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (1985-88). He subsequently served as UNISYS Composer-in-Residence with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (1996-97), and was the 2002–2003 Composer-in-Residence with the Ritz Chamber Players of Jacksonville, Florida. In addition, he has served as Visiting Professor of Composition at the Yale University School of Music. In Spring, 2004, Singleton joined the American Composers Orchestra as “Music Alive” Composer-in-Residence and Artistic Advisor for the IMPROVISE! Festival. In 2008, Singleton served as Composer-in-Residence in Tirana, Albania.
Singleton's music is notable for its rare union of influences, "from Mahler to Monk, Bird to Bernstein, James Baldwin to Bach, Santana to Prince," (Philadelphia Inquirer) as well as for its signature moments of theatricality and surprise. He has worked extensively with major orchestras worldwide, and has written significant works for chamber and vocal ensembles, as well as works for the theater. His set of Argoru pieces for solo instruments span a compositional period from 1968-2002 and have been championed by soloists across the world. His 1987 orchestral work, Shadows, was hailed by The Boston Globe as "fresh, original and entirely Singleton's own." Singleton's choral ballet TRUTH, based on the life of Sojourner Truth, was praised as "edgy and eclectic ... thought-provoking and affecting" by the Star Tribune following its premiere with VocalEssence in 2006. In 2008, his wind quintet Through it All was commissioned by The ASCAP Foundation and Spivey Hall and premiered by the Grammy-nominated Imani Winds. After Choice, for string orchestra, was commissioned and premiered in 2009 by the Orchestra of the League of Composers at Columbia University’s Miller Theatre. In 2010, Singleton’s concerto for piano and orchestra BluesKonzert had its Carnegie Hall debut with Ursula Oppens and the American Composer’s Orchestra.
Singleton has amassed numerous awards throughout his compositional life. He is the recipient of a 2003 Guggenheim Fellowship and was commissioned by The Serge Koussevitsky Music Foundation and American Composers Orchestra for the orchestral work When Given a Choice, which premiered at Carnegie Hall in April 2004. His other awards include the Kranichsteiner Musikpreis by the City of Darmstadt, Germany, twice the Musikprotokoll Kompositionpreis by the Austrian Radio, the Mayor’s Fellowship in the Arts Award by the City of Atlanta, and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. In 2014, Singleton was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
His music is recorded on the Albany Records, Elektra/Nonesuch, First Edition, Tzadik, and Innova labels. Singleton’s latest CD “Sweet Chariot” was released in July, 2014 on Albany Records and is the third album in the label's series devoted to his music.
Singleton's recent large-scale orchestral work, Different River, was premiered by Robert Spano and the Atlanta Symphony in 2012 and his chamber work Sweet Chariot was premiered by the Philadelphia-based Astral Artists in 2013. In 2014, Singleton received the premiere of a new work for wind orchestra,Where the Good Sounds Live, commissioned by a consortium of more than 20 college and university bands, with Michael Votta leading the University of Maryland Wind Orchestra. In May, 2016, James Conlon led the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and May Festival Chamber Choir in the world premiere of Prayer as part of the Cincinnati May Festival. In February 2018, the Youth Symphonic Orchestra of Russia, led by Alexis Soriano, performed the world premiere of Across Differences at the Zimnij Theatre in Sochi as part of the 11th Anniversary Winter International Arts Festival. In October, 2019, the Momenta Quartet premiered Singleton’s Hallelujah Anyhow (String Quartet No. 4) at the Americas Society in New York City.