The Rare Book & Manuscript Library is to be the home of the archive of Tania León, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in Music in 2021, and now recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors in 2022.
It seems too much of a cliché to say that Tania León’s archive is unique, but it is that and much more: it is an inspiration. Traveling from Cuba by herself, heading for Paris, she was made stateless when her passport was voided in Cuba as she boarded a Freedom Flight in 1967. Landing in Miami, after a few days she travelled in New York City. It soon became her home and a chance meeting, literally, with Arthur Mitchell when she came to the Harlem School of the Arts as a substitute pianist for dance classes, led to her becoming Dance Theater of Harlem’s first Music Director, as well as at his urging to Tania becoming a composer and conductor.
This is her time. Her compositions are being performed all over the world. Even during the pandemic of the past few years, her works have been performed live by Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and Leon Botstein and the Bard College Orchestra Now. During a New York Philharmonic trivia quiz, it was revealed that she is still the only woman of color to have EVER conducted the New York Philharmonic.
What Arthur Mitchell was in his day in the ballet world, Tania León is also doing in our day as a woman composer/conductor/educator/mentor. Her archive will join that of Arthur Mitchell, and it adds significantly to our African-diasporic holdings that now include those of composers H. Lawrence Freeman, Edward H. Margetson, Ulysses Kay (who she knew), and Alvin Singleton (who she knows). It also adds significantly to our holdings of women composers that include Eda Rapoport, Marilyn Crispell, and Gloria Coates.
George Lewis has written: “I would like to affirm that Tania León is an artist whose work has always retained both its radical edge and it sensuous beauty. Although one cannot predict precisely what she will do next, one can be sure of this: the new work will be exciting … it will reach a very diverse audience.”
Henry Lewis Gates has written: “Simply put, Tania León is a national treasure.” Further, Gates points out that much of her work is inspired by literature, writing “I cannot think of another musician, past or present, whose work has been so allied to literature.”
Ellie Hisama writes that Tania León is an artist “who has made inclusive excellence a centerpiece of her life’s work. Recognizing her lasting impact on audiences around the world, her sterling reputation, her championing of underrepresented composers, and her unparalleled contributions to the field of music as a composer, conductor, and pianist” her archive would be an excellent addition to RBML’s collections.
Alejandro L. Madrid, who has written her biography Tania León’s Stride, A Polyrhythmic Life, published in 2021 writes: “I have no doubt that Tania León is one of the most important and accomplished composers of her generation. Her music has influenced several cohorts of composers in the U.S., Latin America, and Europe, while also serving as a bridge to positively acknowledge and accept the music and culture from Latinx composers as a serious interlocutor in European and American concert halls. At the same time, her advocacy and commitment to the advancement of marginalized communities of people of color has led to her pioneering work as a musical activist.”