Acclaimed composer, conductor, and educator and Brooklyn College Distinguished Professor Emerita Tania León was honored by the Kennedy Center for her lifetime achievements in the performing arts. The 45th annual awards took place on December 5 at the Kennedy Center Opera House in Washington, D.C.

Professor León taught at Brooklyn College for 35 years until her retirement in 2019, and was director of music composition in the school’s Conservatory of Music. She is the first faculty member in any of the City University of New York (CUNY) schools to receive the prestigious Kennedy Center award.

León, a native of Cuba who moved to New York in the late 1960s, has an illustrious career that spans more than 50 years. Among her many achievements she won the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for Music for her orchestral work Stride, a piece commissioned by the New York Philharmonic to commemorate the centennial of women’s voting rights. In 2018 she was named a USA fellow and inducted into the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.

“My first thoughts went to my ancestors: They believed in my dreams,” said Professor León in a statement about the award. “What we lacked in material wealth, they made up for in spirit, encouragement, and support. My heartfelt thanks go to the many people who have blessed my path by helping my talent to blossom and by giving me the chance to be heard.”

In addition to Brooklyn College, León taught for 30 years at the CUNY Graduate Center’s music doctoral program. She has been a visiting lecturer at Harvard University and visiting professor at Yale University, University of Michigan, and the Musikschule in Hamburg, Germany. In 2000 she was named the Tow Distinguished Professor at Brooklyn College. She was named Distinguished Professor of CUNY in 2006, and professor emerita in 2019.

León joined actor and filmmaker George Clooney, contemporary Christian and pop singer-songwriter Amy Grant, soul, gospel and R&B singer Gladys Knight, and the Irish rock band U2 in this year’s honors. Guests included President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden. The event will be televised on December 28.

Watch the White House Reception from December 4, 2022.