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Wed, 04.14.1943

Tania León, Composer, Conductor, and Educator born

Tania León

*Tania León was born on this date in 1943.  She is an Afro Cuban American composer of large-scale and chamber works and a conductor, educator, and advisor to arts organizations.

She was born Tania Justina León in Havana, Cuba, and has mixed French, Spanish, Chinese, African, and Cuban heritage. Her grandmother recognized that her granddaughter liked music because of how she reacted to music on the radio. She began studying the piano at the age of four, and she attended Carlos Alfredo Peyrellade Conservatory, where she earned a B.A. in 1963, and the Alejandro García Caturla Conservatory, where she studied piano.

Leon was one of an estimated 300,000 Cubans who left Cuba as a refugee in 1967. She settled in New York City, continuing her studies at New York University (B.S., 1971; M.S., 1975). In 1969, León became a founding member and the first musical director of the Dance Theater of Harlem, establishing its music department, music school, and orchestra. Her ballet compositions for that company include Haiku(1973), Douglass (with Geoffrey Holder, 1974), and Belé (with Geoffrey Holder, 1981). She instituted the Brooklyn Philharmonic Community Concert Series in 1977 and 1994 and co-founded the American Composers Orchestra Sonidos de las Americas Festivals as a Latin American Music Advisor.

From 1993 to 1997, she was a New Music Advisor at the New York Philharmonic. She has been a guest conductor with many venues. León's opera Scourge of Hyacinths, based on a radio play by Nobel Prize-winner Wole Soyinka, was commissioned in 1994, where it won the BMW Prize as best new opera.

Drummin', a full-length cross-cultural work for indigenous percussionists and orchestra, was commissioned and premiered in 1997 by the Miami Light Project and the New World Symphony Orchestra. León's recorded works include Batá, Indígena, a collection of León's chamber music; Carabalí (and already Batá); Rituál, for solo piano, and her arrangement of "El Manisero." In 1998, León received the New York Governor's Lifetime Achievement Award.

She received honorary doctorates from Colgate University and Oberlin College, and in 1998, she held the Fromm Residency at the American Academy in Rome. In 2000, she was named the Tow Distinguished Professor at the Conservatory of Music at Brooklyn College, where León has taught since 1985 and is on the faculty of the CUNY Graduate Center in Manhattan. She also served as Latin American Music Advisor to the American Composers Orchestra until 2001. León conducted the work with the Orchestre Symphonique de Nancy (France) in March 2002. León has been the subject of profiles on television and independent films.

In 2010, her work was performed in Cuba for the first time. In 2010 and 2012, she was nominated for a Latin Grammy Award for Best Classical Contemporary Composition. She is the only Cuban and Cuban American musician ever nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Classical Composition (2013). She won the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for Music for Stride, making her the first woman composer of African descent to win the award. In 2022, Tania León was a Kennedy Center Honor awardee.



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