Tania León (NY Philharmonic/YouTube)

Tania León wins 2021 Pulitzer Prize in Music


Cuban-American composer Tania León has been announced winner of the Pulitzer Prize in Music on Friday for her 2019 orchestral work, Stride.

Born in Havana, Cuba in 1943, Leòn moved to New York City in 1967. Two years later she became a founding member and first music director of the Dance Theatre of Harlem. She has been a professor of music at Brooklyn College since 1985, and is in demand internationally both as a composer and conductor. In 2004, the National Black Arts Festival invited Leòn to bring her Son Sonora Ensemble to Atlanta to participate in the Festival, in great part because of her proactively pan-cultural philosophy.

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Stride was given its world premiere by the New York Philharmonic at Lincoln Center on February 13, 2020, one of the orchestra’s last concerts before the pandemic. It was written as part of Project 19, in which Leòn was one of 19 women composers commissioned to write music celebrating the centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote.

VIDEO: Tania Leòn speaks about her Project 19 commission:

The online list of 2021 Pulitzer Prize winners describes Leòn’s Strides as “a musical journey full of surprise, with powerful brass and rhythmic motifs that incorporate Black music traditions from the US and the Caribbean into a Western orchestral fabric.” ■

Mark Gresham is publisher and principal writer for EarRelevant. He has been a music journalist for over 30 years, and a composer of music for much longer than that.