Born in Havana, Cuba, on May 14, 1943, Tania León is an influential personality in today's music scene. She is highly regarded as a composer and conductor. Not to mention her accomplishments as an educator and advisor to arts organizations.
Tania León started learning the piano when she was four years old. She studied piano with Zenaida Manfugás at the Alejandro García Caturla Conservatory. And at the Carlos Alfredo Peyrellade Conservatory is where she received a B.A. in 1963. She moved to New York City in 1967, where she continued her studies at New York University under Ursula Mamlok.
In 1969, León became a founding member and the first musical director of Arthur Mitchell's Dance Theater of Harlem, establishing its music department, music school, and orchestra. She instituted the Brooklyn Philharmonic Community Concert Series in 1978 and 1994 co-founded the American Composers Orchestra Sonidos de las Americas Festivals as Latin American Music Advisor. From 1993 to 1997, she was New Music Advisor to Kurt Masur and the New York Philharmonic. She also served as Latin American Music Advisor to the American Composers Orchestra until 2001.
The 78-year-old Cuban-born composer was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Music on June 11, 2021, for her symphonic composition Stride. The 15-minute composition was described by the Pulitzer Jury as a "musical voyage full of surprises, with powerful brass and rhythmic patterns blending Black music traditions from the United States and the Caribbean into a Western orchestral fabric." Stride received its global debut on February 13, 2020, at Lincoln Center by the New York Philharmonic.
Stride sprang from Project 19, an ambitious commissioning scheme in which 19 female composers were chosen to make music to commemorate the centennial of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote. Susan B. Anthony, a women's rights campaigner and a notable leader in the suffrage movement, was León's inspiration.
In an NPR interview, León said she was the first musician in her poor Havana family. Her success was a dream of her mother and, especially, her grandmother, who suspected that she was interested in music. "They created a dream and I grabbed the dream and went into the world, and here I am," León said.