American tenor Karim Sulayman has, after a career that began in childhood, become an international attraction in operatic and orchestral performances, often specializing in music of the Baroque. Unlike most other vocal performers, Sulayman has attracted attention for activist stances unrelated to music. Of Lebanese-American background, Sulayman was born in Chicago on September 10, 1976. He began studying the violin at age three and sang for some years, as a boy alto, with the Chicago Children's Choir. During this period he was chosen, by the conductors themselves, for solo parts in Chicago Symphony Orchestra and St. Louis Symphony Orchestra concerts by conductors Georg Solti and Leonard Slatkin, respectively. Sulayman attended the Eastman School of Music in Rochester and was exposed there to early music in classes with lutenist and conductor Paul O'Dette. He earned a master's degree from Rice University and went to Paris for further studies with tenor and countertenor Howard Crook. Sulayman's education also includes studies in improvisation at the training center operated by the Chicago comedy troupe Second City.
Sulayman has sung with the National Symphony at Washington's Kennedy Center in Handel's Messiah, and has toured the U.S. with the Cleveland historical-instrument ensemble Apollo's Fire. He appeared in Australia as Testo in Monteverdi's Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda, and he played the role of Claudio Monteverdi in a world premiere production at the Drottningholm Slottsteater of Syskonen i Mantua (Sisters in Mantua), a contemporary opera set in 17th century Italy and featuring music by Monteverdi and Salomone Rossi.
He has also performed contemporary music, creating the role of Albert in Laura Kaminsky's Some Light Emerges at the Houston Grand Opera in 2017. Sulayman has appeared in world premieres at Carnegie Hall and the Aspen Music Festival. Sulayman has made ensemble appearances on Naxos label albums devoted to music by André Grétry and François-André Danican Philidor, as well as on Apollo's Fire's Sephardic Journey. In 2018, he released his debut solo album, Songs of Orpheus, an album of Monteverdi arias made in collaboration with Apollo's Fire. Ten days after the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president, Sulayman stood outside the Trump International Hotel in New York City, holding a handwritten posterboard sign that read:
"Hello, my name is Karim and I am Arab-American. Like many people who are black, brown, women, LGBTQIA, Latinix, Muslim, Jewish, immigrants and Other, I am very scared. We are anxious and uneasy in our own country and it's difficult to see what lies ahead for us. But, I have hope that I am safe with you. Together, we can build a community of caring, rather than one of fear. You can trust me to care for you no matter who you are, what you look like, or where you are from. Will you embrace me as willingly as I embrace you? Will you shake my hand and/or hug me and/or take a photo with me and post it as a sign that I am safe here with you? I trust you."