10 Musicians Who Were Awarded the MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant”


Not all accolades in the music industry consist of record sales and Grammys.  Granted, those would be nice, but the music industry consists of more than pop stars.  It is any individual with a passion for music and the audacity to chase it.  The MacArthur Foundation is an organization dedicated to advancing society by supporting those with the potential to contribute to it in a significant manner. The Fellowships come with a stipend of $625,000 over five years—No strings attached. It is definitely one of the greatest grants a musician could ever desire. Let me introduce you to 10 Musicians who were awarded the Macarthur Foundation Genius Grant.

Jeremy Denk 

Jeremy is a remarkable pianist known for his unique choices of performance and his extraordinary interpretations of classic pieces.  But more than just a gifted musician, he is a gifted expositor.  His commentary on music and ability to explain complex concepts to both the amateur and the aficionado earned him the Genius Grant in 2013.

Vijay Iyer 

A pianist, composer, bandleader, electronic musician, and writer, Vijay is pioneering a new conception of jazz and American music.  Known for his intellect and scholarly approach to music as much as his remarkable ability to play and compose, Vijay collaborates across multiple disciplines and genres to produce a unique sound that earned him the Genius Grant in 2013.

Chris Thile

With bluegrass roots, Chris infuses that old school sound with a contemporary take on classical, rock, and jazz to develop his own unique approach to music while masterfully wielding the mandolin.  Performing as soloist and as part of a widely acclaimed trio, an adventurous Chris captivates modern audiences with a classic sound. In 2012, he became the recipient of the MacArthur Genius Grant.

Dafnis Prieto

A fascinating percussionist who infuses the distinct sounds of Cuban roots into a masterful work of art, Dafnis Prieto will bring an audience to their feet with his unique approach. Whether he performs a solo artist or part of a larger group, his ability to find the perfect context and nuance in which to interpret the music as a percussionist is rivaled by few.  He was awarded his Genius Grant in 2011.  

Alisa Weilerstein 

It is the ladies turn to feel the music and few do it better than cellist Alisa Weilerstein.  She displays a remarkable ability to emotionally interpret both contemporary and classic music in a way that resonates with both the musical novice and expert.  He is widely acclaimed throughout the world and in 2011, that acclaim landed her the MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant.

Jason Moran

Jason is a jazz pianist, composer, and band leader that crosses many genres to create an adventurous and distinct approach to American jazz.  He is an ardent student of jazz history and seeks to pay homage to those who have paved the way while embracing these historical figures ability to innovate.  He continues to expand the horizons of jazz and was justifiably awarded the Genius Grant in 2010.

Sebastian Ruth

Sebastian is a gifted violinist who embodies the true spirit of the power of music.  Not only is he a gifted musician, but he is a social pioneer who seeks to bring music to those in some of the least advantaged neighborhoods.  Putting his body where his mouth is, he actually takes up residence in this inner city environment as he believes music is a community necessity rather than a luxury.  And for that, Sebastian was awarded the grant in 2010.

Leila Josefowicz

With another win for the ladies in music, Leila Josefowicz has become one of the world’s leading soloist on the violin.  She captivates audience with her ability to convey the emotion and depth of both contemporary and classical pieces.  She was awarded her Genius Grant in 2008 and has gone on to show that she was a worthy recipient as contributes to society through the gift of music.

Miguel Zenon

The only saxophonist to make my list, but if there could be only one, this man is worthy.   Miguel is a jazz musician who brings Latin influences to bear in his performance and the result is an electric and smooth jazz sound that stirs the soul.  You can feel the passion and emotion throughout his performance as he not only plays, but composes such pieces as well.  Miguel was awarded his grant in 2008.

Corey Harris

I’m going to end this list with the sound of the blues.  Corey Harris is a guitarist, songwriter, and performer who masters the sound of the Mississippi Delta.  While accurately conveying the sound of decades long past, he brings a contemporary interpretation and emotion to the music that has been the inspiration for some of music’s greatest stars.  A 2007 recipient of the Genius Grant, you will find yourself listening to his music for hours before you realize what happened.

The MacArthur Foundation recognizes various achievements in our society and it thrills me that they recognize the contribution of the music that moves this nation.

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