Cuban-born American musician Tania Leon is one of five 2022 Kennedy Center honorees. Leone told CBS News she was moved when the head of the Kennedy Center called and told her she would be honored.
“When I hung up the phone I said, ‘Wow, this is exactly what I should have done,'” the 79-year-old said.
It was a confirmation of what had been burning in his soul for seven decades.
Her decades-long musical career began when her grandmother took her to a music conservatory as a little girl after indications that she had perfect pitch – the ability to reproduce a musical note on the spot without guidance. . Before she could even read.
Soon the others learn that Leon has a special gift. Which inspired him to pursue a career in music.
At age 24, in 1967, she boarded a freedom flight from Cuba to the United States.
Leone said, “That’s where the story really started, because the day before I left my grandmother told me, please don’t leave.” “And I told him he made my wings. And I said, ‘Don’t worry. If things don’t work out, I’ll come back.'”
Although she could barely speak English when she arrived in New York, music was her first language. She landed a role as a founding member of the Dance Theater of Harlem and earned a scholarship to the New York College of Music, where the pianist added composing and conducting to her growing resume.
In his 50-year career, he has composed music for orchestra, opera and ballet. He organized shows on Broadway in the 1970s including “The Whiz”.
But it was in 2021 that she really seemed to hit her stride when she won the Pulitzer Prize in Music for her piece “Stride,” which was inspired by the 19th Amendment that gave women the right to vote.
“The stride for me was this huge woman, with huge feet, no matter what, and that’s actually a segment in the piece that I tried to do,” she said.
Because of “Stride” and decades of memorable work, Leone was recognized this month as a Kennedy Center Honoree.
She said that when one of her former teachers – 89-year-old Jerrold Ross, who had given her her first scholarship to the United States – learned that she had won the Pulitzer, he called her after finding her number. They hadn’t seen each other in 40 years, but to Leone’s surprise, CBS News helped reunite them earlier this month.
“When they write a book about who were the great composers in the world, your name will be in it,” Ross told Leone during their meeting.
Leone told CBS News she wants to live her life to the fullest and is already on her next project, an orchestral piece she will create in collaboration with former Poet Laureate Rita Dove.
He has no plans to slow down.
“Life’s too short,” she said.
Watch the 44th Annual Kennedy Center Honors on CBS December 22 at 9 p.m. ET/PT and streaming on Paramount+.