UC San Diego Music Professor Anthony Davis was awarded the 2020 Pulitzer Prize in Music for his opera titled The Central Park Five on May 4.
Premiering at the Long Beach Opera on June 15, 2019, the opera tells the powerful story of The Central Park Five, a group of African-American and Latino teenagers wrongly convicted of sexual assault. The boys were not exonerated until new DNA evidence proved their innocence almost 14 years later. Davis’ piece highlights injustices and prejudices still affecting minorities today.
The Pulitzer Prize, awarded by Columbia University, aims to commend achievements in media, literature, drama, and history among other categories. The prizes are awarded annually in twenty-one different categories and each winner receives $15,000 in addition to a certificate of achievement.
Davis is known for his work in choral and orchestral music in addition to opera. Graduating from Yale University in 1975, Davis has had a successful career composing original chamber pieces as well as music for Broadway productions. He was awarded the “Lift Every Voice” Legacy Award from the National Opera Association in 2008, and has since been recognized by the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the New York Foundation of the Arts, and Opera America. Similar to The Central Park Five, another one of his operas; X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X, has also been praised for its ability to highlight historically significant events surrounding the African-American community.
News of Davis’ Pulitzer Prize was shared by the Los Angeles Times, National Public Radio (NPR), and The San Diego Union-Tribune. In the interview with NPR, he explained his inspiration for The Central Park Five, stating, “In watching it on stage — whether you’re African-American, Caucasian, Asian, whatever — you become one of the five. You feel like you’re the one being interrogated. You feel how you could have been coerced [into giving a false confession] And then the loss of innocence that the five experienced, that is a very universal emotion.”
Davis is currently working on an opera about the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 as well as another opera called The Darkest Light in the Heart based on the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church massacre in 2015. In addition to his musical work, he is also a member of the UC San Diego Music Department where he teaches a variety of courses including MUS 127: Discover Jazz and MUS 500: Apprentice Teaching.
Amanda Gonzalez is a Staff Writer for The Triton.