About Us

"genuinely beautiful...rapturous musicmaking"

The Washington Post

The Suspicious Cheese Lords strive to broaden the global repertoire and listenership of choral music by unearthing forgotten works, breathing new life into familiar pieces, and by creating new compositions of their own. Specializing in early music, this unique brotherhood’s recordings, concerts, workshops, and liturgies provide a scholarly yet accessible interpretation of music from all ages, educating and inspiring fans and future musicians alike. Based in Washington, D.C., their performance venues have included the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Smithsonian Institution, the National Gallery of Art, and the Library of Congress.

The Washington Post has described their performance as “genuinely beautiful…rapturous musicmaking.” The Cheese Lords have been awarded two of the Washington Area Music Association’s “Wammies,” for Best New Artist and Best Choral Group. They have participated in workshops with Tallis Scholars founding member Philip Cave, and have given private performances for the Kennedy Center’s Board of Trustees, and His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI and a group of national interreligious leaders. They have participated in concert series and educational programs from the Midwest to the Atlantic Seaboard, including two fringe concerts at the Boston Early Music Festival (2015 and 2023).  The Cheese Lords have released five world-premiere CDs, and been broadcast by early music programs Millennium of Music and Harmonia.

The group that would eventually become the Cheese Lords first met in 1996, when Clifton “Skip” West, III, invited a group of friends over for a savory gourmet meal in exchange for singing Thomas Tallis’ Lamentations of Jeremiah. The combination of song, friendship, and Skip’s cooking soon became a regular event. To this day the Cheese Lords continue to have dinner together before their regular rehearsals.

The Suspicious Cheese Lords’ unconventional name is derived from the title of a Tallis motet, Suscipe quaeso Domine. In a playful translation of the title, it was observed that Suscipe could mean “suspicious,” quaeso resembles the Spanish word queso meaning “cheese,” and Domine is, of course, “Lord.” Hence, the title of the motet was clearly “Suspicious Cheese Lord” – which in time became adopted as the group’s name. Although their name is humorous, the group appreciates the more accepted translation of Suscipe quaeso Domine, which is, “Take, I ask Lord.” Suspiciously, the Cheese Lords have yet to perform this motet.


Lord Skip (Clifton “Skip” West, III)

Skip is the founder and president of The Suspicious Cheese Lords, a position he retains through his skills as a cook par excellence. He began his stage career in kindergarten by singing “The Perfect Nanny” from the movie Mary Poppins. He was encouraged to study music by his next-door neighbor, who happened to be Howard Mitchell, conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra. Skip was a boy chorister in the premiere of Leonard Bernstein’s Mass, a musical travesty he’d rather forget. He sang with the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception Treble Choir, the J. Weldon Norris Chorale (Howard University), the Washington Capella Antiqua, the Cathedral Choral Society, and Coral Cantigas before deciding to found his own group. This D.C. native is equally at home with Gregorian chant and spirituals, but his true love is for music of the Renaissance. He sings countertenor, and has studied with Drew Minter, Barbara Hollinshead, and Jay White.

Lord Org (George Cervantes)

Org, as he is known to his friends, is a founding member of the Cheese Lords and its vice president. As a member of the repertoire committee, he is constantly searching out rarely-performed works. George didn’t begin singing classical music until he attended Georgetown University. He was a member of the Cathedral Choral Society and Coral Cantigas, and worked under distinguished organists/choirmasters such as John Balka, Haig Mardirosian, and Owen Burdick. He has also been to four countries with the letter “z” in them.

Despite having no formal training in composition, he’s had the temerity to compose or arrange a few small pieces for the group. “The Blessing of St. Francis” was described by Washington Post reviewer Stephen Brookes as having “faint but wonderful undertones of Brian Wilson…a real delight to the ears.” In April 2008, his setting of the Prayer of St. Francis was premiered for a gathering of national interreligious leaders with Pope Benedict XVI at the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington, D.C.

Lord Taskmaster (Christopher Riggs)

After much cajoling by founder Skip West, Chris joined the Cheese Lords during their formative years (1997-98). He is a 25-plus year veteran and occasional spot soloist with the acclaimed Cathedral Choral Society under the direction of J. Reilly Lewis and now Steven Fox. For twenty years Chris sang professionally with the superb choir of the Church of the Ascension and St. Agnes under the direction of Haig Mardirosian and J. Owen Burdick.

Bearing a vocal range from bass to countertenor, he has lent his voice over the years to several other D.C.-area choral groups including the Capital Camarata, Polyhymnia, the Heritage Signature Chorale, Ensemble Torculus, Musica Oriana, and the Spooktastics. Chris has performed featured roles in local community music theater productions mounted by The Arlington Players, Little Theatre of Alexandria, St. Mark’s Players, and American Music Stage. A graduate of American University’s School of International Service, Chris now works in the real estate industry. In the past he served as an ESL classroom instructor for the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia (now English Empowerment Center) and volunteered for several site builds with Habitat for Humanity.

Before Cheese Lord rehearsals, the aptly named “Lord Taskmaster” brings his fellow Lords to task to finish their legs of mutton, drain their tankards of mead, and join him in the arte of Musyk and songe. As always Chris is grateful for the continued loyal support of his family and friends.

Lord Chanthony (Anthony Smitha)

Originally from the western wilds of Dallas, Texas, Anthony will still argue that the best state is the Lone Star State. That didn’t stop him from coming East for education, however, where he earned a degree in Theology from Christendom College. Having officially begun his singing career in church choirs as a teen, he was quickly scooped up by the Christendom College Choir where he became versed in Gregorian chant and was introduced to Renaissance polyphony under the tutelage of Dr. Kurt Poterack. It was during his tenure at Christendom College that Anthony first heard the Cheese Lords. “One of these days, I’m going to sing with them,” he told himself and sure enough, almost ten years later, in 2010, he was thrilled to become an official member of the SCL. He presently serves as the group’s secretary.

Also known as “Lord Chanthony” for his expertise with Gregorian chant, Anthony lends his mellifluous baritone and directing skills to several groups in the greater metropolitan DC area. He can be heard on Sundays chanting with the monastic choir at the Priory of the Annunciation in West Virginia, where he also directs the polyphony choir for feast days. He regularly contributes to wedding, funeral, and ordination choirs, has performed at the Kennedy Center and at Wolf Trap, and for a taste of something different, you can hear him sing Broadway music with Upper Room Theatre Ministry in Manassas, Virginia or reveling in hilarity with the FOOLS! improvisational comedy group around Northern Virginia. He can also fix your computer.

Lord Cole (Cole R. Milliard)

Cole is a bass hailing from the flat yet exciting expanses of Overland Park, Kansas. He joined The Suspicious Cheese Lords in July 2013 and currently serves as their treasurer, but has been singing in a choir of some sort since his elementary school days. He is a 2007 graduate of the University of Notre Dame, where he was a member of the Notre Dame Glee Club as well as a founding member of the coed a cappella group Halftime; he went on to earn a J.D. at The Catholic University of America in 2010. Cole believes that the Lords shouldn’t be the only ones to have to put up with his booming yet dulcet tones and terrible puns, so he also spends time singing with The Capitol Hill Chorale and St. Lawrence Catholic Church in Northern Virginia. While happy to sing stirring and sacred choral music from any age, Cole will always have a soft spot for Thomas Tallis (the first choral composer he ever loved) and music from the Russian choral tradition (because there is nothing quite like a low B-flat).

Lord Kevin (Kevin Elam)

Kevin, from the illustrious city of Manassas, Virginia, studied classical piano and choral singing from a young age, but today enjoys performing and teaching in a variety of styles from Celtic to jazz. Kevin earned his degree in jazz piano at George Mason University under the tutelage of the phenomenal Wade Beach. After seeing the Lords perform a concert in Baltimore in late 2013, Kevin’s then-dormant but fiery passion for pre-Baroque choral music was awakened, and he knew it was his destiny to pursue a Lordship. To his delight, was accepted into the group in 2014; thus far the experience has been exciting, fulfilling, and uplifting.

Outside of the Cheese Lords, Kevin enjoys a professional career singing and playing Irish and Scottish traditional music. Kevin was awarded first place in Men’s English Singing at the 2019 Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann, and took home the coveted “Dalaigh Shield”, an award only won by one other American in its 65-year history. In 2020, Kevin recorded his debut album of traditional ballads, If I Were A Small Bird, released in September 2021. Kevin also sings Renaissance polyphony and other choral repertoire with the Choir of Ascension and Saint Agnes Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C.

Lord Okunshield (David Okun)

Beginning with an off-the-cuff decision to join a church choir in third grade, it was full steam ahead in the pipe organ for David’s choral singing. He continued cantor and ensemble work in Philadelphia- and Atlanta-area churches and with St. Patrick Cathedral in Fort Worth, Texas. David sang with the University of Georgia’s Hodgson Singers and Collegium Musicum early music ensemble, where he performed at the 2011 Boston Early Music Festival. He has performed throughout Europe, notably singing Guillaume Dufay’s Nuper Rosarum Flores underneath the Florence duomo and Gregorio Allegri’s Miserere in the Sistine Chapel.

A graduate of the University of Georgia (Go Dawgs!) and the George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs, David at first decided to concentrate fully on his graduate studies when moving to D.C. But after hearing the Cheese Lords perform at the Washington Early Music Festival, he was jolted out of that poor decision by the group’s “FrankenMass” repertoire and officially joined in fall 2014. Music has a funny way of lamenting “convertere,” doesn’t it?

Lord Stephen (Stephen White)

Hailing from Louisville, Kentucky, tenor Stephen got his start singing in his high school choir (Trinity H.S.) to do musical theater. At the University of Kentucky while pursuing a degree in German language, he sang with the UK Choristers and the UK Chorale, as well as the early music group Collegium Musicum and the UK Opera Department. While at UK his lifelong love of church music was first sparked by singing in two Episcopal church choirs, Good Shepherd and Christ Church Cathedral. At the latter of these he met Jeffrey Smith, who invited him to come to Washington in 1996. Since arriving in the District, Stephen has sung at St. Paul’s K Street (and still does, from time to time), the National Cathedral (1996-2018), the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception (2008-2012, including a pilgrimage to Rome where he sang at St. Peter’s Basilica), Church of the Ascension and St. Agnes, St. John’s Episcopal, Georgetown, St. John’s Lafayette Square, and St. Mary’s in Chinatown. He also sings at several churches in Virginia including St. Mary’s in Arlington, Holy Spirit in Annandale, St. James in Falls Church, and St. John the Beloved in McLean, where he’s also a parishioner and a fourth-degree Knight of Columbus. Stephen additionally sings with the a cappella renaissance group Chantry and with Musikanten. When not singing (which isn’t often!) he enjoys traveling with his wife Carole, cooking, and learning foreign languages. So far he’s up to eight and counting!

Lord Bill (Guillaume Cléaud)

Guillaume is one of the two newest Lords, joining in 2023 after arriving from France. As his name indicates, he works as an economist at the French Ministry of Finance. He began singing in the choir of his graduate school (“Choeur de l’École Polytechnique”) and then in 2008 joined the “Ensemble Vocal du COGE”, a mixed choir specializing in Baroque music, where he sang until 2022, with a short interruption when he moved to Brussels from 2015 to 2018. In Brussels, he joined the “British Madrigal Singers” and discovered British composers rarely performed in France, such as Thomas Tallis, whose music he fell in love with.

Since he arrived in the U.S. in August 2022, the one thing Guillaume has been missing most from France is certainly cheese (second only to his family and friends). He managed to fulfill his desire for choir singing by joining the Cheese Lords.


Lord Aurélien (Aurélien Billot)

Born and raised in Paris as a violist since the age of 5, Aurélien had long desired to develop his vocal skills when a rainy spring COVID-19 pandemic lockdown in Brussels provided him with such a chance.

Three years later, as he set foot on the Land of Opportunity, he messaged the Suspicious Cheese Lords, though without much hope that it would go anywhere. To his astonishment, he was invited to visit rehearsal the following evening, enjoying a dazzling pre-rehearsal dinner followed by witnessing the stellar quality of their singing. That same night, he decided to spare no efforts to join them – with a little help from French wine and freshly baked cakes.

After countless evenings of musical delights, heated debates on Latin pronunciation, a much-feared audition process, lots of laughter, a Christmas concert, and a deep enjoyment of both famous and unknown Renaissance polyphony masterpieces, Aurélien officially joined the Suspicious Cheese Lords in January 2023.

Lord Krystique (Christopher Dieck)

The son of pipe organ builders, Chris has been surrounded by music from ages past since his infancy in Gloucester, Massachusetts. As soon as he was allowed, he began singing in the youth choir of the local Episcopal church, and continued as a treble singer until he graduated high school. Attending Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, Chris studied music with a focus on choral music of the European Medieval and Renaissance periods, as well as astronomy and physics. While in college, he sang with the University’s Collegium Musicum and was a staff singer as both a countertenor and baritone at Trinity Church on the Green, New Haven, under Walden Moore.

Following college, Chris continued his way southward along the East Coast, arriving in Washington, D.C. to commence his career as an astronomer. In Washington, he has sung with the choirs of St. Paul’s K Street under Robert McCormick and the late John Bohl. Chris paused choral singing while pursuing a doctorate from The Catholic University of America in astro-geodesy. Having been away from the wonderful art of polyphony for far too long, Chris was glad to have ended this musical drought soon after completing his degree by joining the Suspicious Cheese Lords in December 2023.