Shirley Meyer Blankenship is a music educator, composer, pianist, harpist, and violinist. She was born in Decatur, Illinois, in 1938 and graduated from the Notre Dame Conservatory of Music (Quincy, IL) in 1955 and Quincy Senior High School in 1956. As a teenager, she was awarded the title Miss Quincy. She received a BM in piano performance with a minor in violin from the University of Illinois in 1961. She continued her training in piano performance at Washington University in St. Louis receiving a Master of Music in 1966. She then returned to the University of Illinois to begin a Master of Music Theory degree and taught Music Theory as a graduate teaching assistant. She earned her second graduate degree in 1969 and eventually taught harp and music theory at the University of Illinois between 1972 and 1981. In 1977, she became the first woman to receive a Doctorate degree in music composition from the University of Illinois. From the late 1970s to the early 1990s, Dr. Blankenship performed on harp with the Squareknot Quartet, a group which included such members as Dorothy Martirano on violin. In the mid 1980s, Dr. Blankenship organized an arts exchange between the Squareknot Quartet and the country of Indonesia. At this time, Dr. Blankenship also married Guido Sinclair, a Jazz musician who played saxophone and performed regualarly at jazz venues in both Champaign and Chicago. Between 1988 and 1992, she began performing with Sinclair on violin, harp, and piano at several local bars and restaurants including Nature's Table. Dr. Blankenship was instrumental in promoting Sinclair's music after his death in 1992 and arranged, published, and performed several of his compositions. Around this time she began the Artist in Motion series, which held concerts at several area clubs including Chester Street. From the mid 1990s to the 2010s Dr. Blankenship began working on her Harp Legacy Project, in which several contemporary composers created compositions for her to perform and record. From this project she has created a number of harp webinars and articles on composing for the instrument.
During her teaching career, Dr. Blankenship has been an instructor of harp, piano, violin, viola, composition, music theory and other subjects at the University level. Her appointments include: Washington University in St. Louis; MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Illinois; Quincy College; Lindenwood Colleges in St. Charles, Missouri; Hardin (formerly Jefferson) Junior High, St. Charles, Missouri; Olivet Nazarene University, Kankakee; and the University of Illinois. As a violinist, Dr. Blankenship has performed with the Quincy Symphony, University of Illinois Symphony and also with the Springfield, Kankakee and Danville Symphonies. She has been the harpist for the Decatur Symphony and was the principal harpist with the Champaign-Urbana Symphony, in which she has participated as a violinist, violist and keyboardist as well. Her theatrical career includes being the music director, accompanist and/or actress for productions at the University of Illinois, Little Theater Company and Champaign, Illinois' Sunshine Dinner Playhouse. Dr. Blankenship has contributed her performance skills to the advancement of contemporary and new music, especially for the harp. As a student at the University of Illinois, she was a member of The Contemporary Chamber Players and has been a consultant to numerous composers. Dr. Blankenship has performed and/or composed under the names of Sherilee Niles, Shirley Meyer, Shirley Ann Blankenship, Anne Jazzmin, and Gianne Sinclair.