2002 Laureate Prize Winner

Yo-Yo Ma

2002 Benjamin Franklin Creativity Laureate in the Arts

Cellist Yo-Yo Ma wants us to listen to music with an open mind. Essentially grounded in the classical tradition, his reputation was launched with recordings of the moving cello suites by Johann Sebastian Bach in 1983. But Ma has moved in many directions, some difficult to define. He has performed a wide range of music from Bach to Beethoven to Appalachian bluegrass to Jazz to Chinese folk music to Argentinian tangos. Today Yo-Yo Ma mixes modern with traditional, performing music from cultures and traditions around the globe. In 1998 he conceived of the Silk Road Project, a study of cultural traditions along the ancient trade routes that stretch from the Mediterranean Sea to the Pacific Ocean. The Project has commissioned more than sixty works which are performed by the Silk Road Ensemble, a diverse collection of thirty-one musicians from all over the world.

Yo-Yo Ma was born in Paris and moved to New York with his musician parents in 1960. He was well on his way to being a child prodigy when he performed on the cello for Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy in 1962, when he was just seven years old. He graduated from Harvard in 1976. He has made over 75 albums of classical and modern music; fifteen have won Grammy awards; many have become classical best sellers. He has played with the world’s major orchestras, as well as for soundtracks for a number of movies such as Crouching Tigers Hidden Dragon. He has always been interested in music education. While touring he often takes time to conduct master classes  and other more informal programs for students. He has reached young audiences by playing on television programs “Arthur” and “Sesame Street.”  In 2009 he joined with the New York City Department of Education to pilot Silk Road Connect, a multidisciplinary middle school program that brings visual and aural elements into the classroom, making connections with Social Studies, English, Language Arts, sciences, and the arts.

 Among his many honors, Yo-Yo Ma has been awarded the Avery Fisher Prize (1978), the Glenn Gould Prize (1999), the National Medal of the Arts (2001), and the World Economic Forum’s Crystal Award (2008). In 2006 he was named Peace Ambassador by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. In 2009 President Obama appointed Mr. Ma to serve on the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities. His notable performances include John Williams’ Air and Simple Gifts at the inauguration ceremony for Barack Obama on January 20, 2009. Later that same year he performed at the funeral mass for Senator Edward M. Kennedy. In 2013, Mr. Ma performed Sarabande from Bach’s Cello Suite No. 5 in C minor at an interfaith service to honor the victims of the April 2013 Boston Marathon bombings.