Brooklyn College Distinguished Professor Emeritus Tania León won a 2021 Pulitzer Prize in music for her piece “Stride” which was commissioned as part of the New York Philharmonic at Lincoln Center’s Project 19, a multi-season initiative featuring 19 female composers—the largest women-only commission in history—in honor of the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage.
The piece premiered at Lincoln Center on February 13, 2020, and is described by the New York Philharmonic 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.”
León started learning the piano in her native Cuba at age four and earned a bachelor’s degree and master’s degrees in music before leaving the island as a refugee on a Freedom Flight, which transported Cuban asylum seekers to Miami from the mid-60’s to the early 70’s, in 1967. Eventually, León settled in New York City and studied under the composer Ursula Mamlok and earned her second bachelor’s and master’s degrees from New York University.
Some of León’s other professional accomplishments include being a founding member and music director of Arthur Mitchell’s Dance Theatre of Harlem in 1969, instituting the Brooklyn Philharmonic Community concert series in 1974, serving as Latin American music advisor for the American Composers Orchestra from 1994 to 2001 and serving as the New Music Advisor at the New York Philharmonic from 1993 to 1997, according to the Pulitzer Prize’s website
“As a professor and director of music composition in Brooklyn College’s Conservatory of Music, Tania León helped nurture our talented students for decades, and has left an extraordinary musical legacy on our campus,” said Brooklyn College President Michelle J. Anderson. “We are proud that the world is now celebrating her incredible composition, ‘Stride,’ a timely salute to the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage. On behalf of the Brooklyn College extended family, I congratulate professor León on this tremendous achievement.”
León is not the first member of the Brooklyn College family to be awarded the prestigious prize. A handful of other Brooklyn College faculty including poet John Ashbery, writer Michael Cunningham and historians Edwin G. Burrows and Margaret Clapp are also Pultizer Prize winners as well as eight alums:
Oscar Handlin (B.A. 1934) 1952 Pulitzer Prize for History for The Uprooted (1951)
Harold Schonberg (B.A. 1937), 1971 Pulitzer Prize for Criticism
Sylvan Fox (B.A. 1951), journalist and 1963 Pulitzer Prize winner for Local Reporting, Edition Time (1963)
Howard Sackler (B.A. 1950), 1968 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his play The Great White Hope (1967)
Frank McCourt (M.A. 1967) 1997 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography for Angela’s Ashes
Paul Moses (BA 1975), 1992 Spot News Reporting
(Also on BC Faculty from 2000-2015)
Greg Grandin (BA 1991), Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction for The End of the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America (2020)
Annie Baker (M.F.A. 2009), 2014 Pulitzer Prize for her play The Flick.