Chicago-born-and-raised composer-instrumentalist and veteran of the collective The Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), Henry Threadgill was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his 2015 album In for a Penny, In for a Pound (listen to the opening track here).
Prior to Monday, the only jazz performers to win a Pulitzer prize for music (while still alive) were Wynton Marsalis and Ornette Coleman. A few other greats, such as Thelonious Monk, had been honored posthumously – but denied the increased standing and support that might have been valuable when they were still creating art.
So-called classical compositions and performances have dominated, with few exceptions, the Pulitzer music prizes. According to Howard Reich,
Why would one genre dominate the prize for more than half a century?
Perhaps no one summed up the answer better than Duke Ellington, who had been recommended for a Pulitzer by the jury in 1965 but was rejected by the board.
“I’m hardly surprised that my kind of music is still without, let us say, official honor at home,” Ellington told writer Nat Hentoff in a 1965 New York Times magazine piece titled “This Cat Needs No Pulitzer Prize.”
“Most Americans,” added Ellington, “still take it for granted that European music – classical music, if you will – is the only really respectable kind. I remember, for example, that when Franklin Roosevelt died, practically no American music was played on the air in tribute to him … by and large, then as now, jazz was like the kind of man you wouldn’t want your daughter to associate with.”