Tania León. Credit: Gail Hadani
When acclaimed composer and Distinguished Professor Emerita Tania León received the Kennedy Center Lifetime Achievement Award last December, President Joe Biden praised her for “her vision, her defying labels, her deepening Latin American influence in classical music… We thank her—thank her for breathing new sounds into the soul of the nation.”
“Little did I imagine when studying in La Habana that life was going to grace me with such a distinction! My first thoughts went to my ancestors: They believed in my dreams, and what we lacked in material wealth, they made up for in spirit, encouragement, and support,” she said in a statement for the Kennedy Center.
León is the only City University of New York faculty member to receive such an award.
On June 2, León will add to her accolades at a ceremony closer to home when she receives an honorary doctorate in humane letters at the 2023 Commencement at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. León, who taught at Brooklyn College and at The Graduate Center, CUNY, for 35 years, was named the Claire and Leonard Tow Professor in Music in 2000 and Distinguished Professor of the City University of New York in 2006. She was director of music composition at the schools Conservatory of Music, until she retired in 2019.
A native of Cuba who arrived in New York in 1969, the illustrious composer’s career has stretched over six decades and counting. She was a founding member of the Dance Theatre of Harlem, where she established a music department. She instituted the Brooklyn Philharmonic Community Concert Series in 1978 and, in 1994, co-founded the American Composers Orchestra “Sonidos de las Americas Festivals,” where she was music adviser. She also served as new music adviser to conductor Kurt Masur and the New York Philharmonic. In 2021 León won the Pulitzer Prize for Music for her orchestral work Stride, a piece commissioned by the New York Philharmonic to commemorate the centennial of women’s voting rights—another grand distinction in a stellar career.