UCSD professor wins Pulitzer Prize

Anthony Davis was in a Zoom meeting with faculty members of UC San Diego’s music department when he got a call. 

He decided to take the call, but neglected to mute his Zoom mic; that’s when he and the rest of the department found out, he’d won the Pulitzer Prize for music for his opera, The Central Park Five.               

The Pulitzer Prize board called his work, “A courageous operatic work, marked by powerful vocal writing and sensitive orchestration.  The Central Park Five had a three-night run to the Warner Grand Theater.  The story focuses on the Latino teen and four African American teens accused in the Central Park rape.  You might remember the story of injustice from the 1989 headlines, or last year’s Emmy award-winning series, “When They See Us.”           

Davis will also say, his work pays homage to the African American giants in music who came before him.  He tells the story of the time, Duke Ellington was “honored” by the Pulitzer Prize board, but not awarded the prize.  That year, no one was awarded the prize. 

According to Davis, Ellington’s reaction was to joke, he was too young to be celebrated.  “That was a crime. He was one of the great composers.”       

Davis pays homage to Ellington by incorporating a bit of his “Harlem Suite” into the opera. But he also says jazz fans will hear his work inspired by other music greats, Billy Strayhorn, Charles Mingus, and Thelonious Monk. But it’s not just jazz incorporated into the opera. 

“When the Central Park Five emerge and they go into the park, I go into the hip hop funk world.  That was the time when hip hop sort of went mainstream.”                  

Davis told FOX 11, “When I think about winning the prize I always think about the Duke Ellington’s and the Charles Mingus’ and Thelonious Monk And all the great African American composers who preceded me who actually made me who I am as a composer… and then I also think about, that my music has always been engaged in politics and the idea that music can make a difference, making statements about our society.”                

Davis says he and other composers like him are standing on the shoulders of giants.  “And, they were truly giants.  What they had to overcome and the racism they had to face and the elegance in which they were able to transport us, the highest level of artistic experience.”      

In normal times, a Pulitzer Prize might be another run for The Central Park Five, maybe even a national tour.  But these are no ordinary times. 

Regardless, a Pulitzer Prize is an extraordinary honor for Anthony Davis.