From Duke Ellington to Kendrick Lamar: Changes in the Pulitzer Prize’s “DNA”

In 1965, the Pulitzer Prize’s Music Jury, after deciding no individual musical work deserved that year’s prize, recommended composer Duke Ellington be awarded a Special Citation for his overall contributions to American music.

The overall Pulitzer Board rejected the recommendation.  No music prize was awarded that year.

The 66 year old Ellington deadpanned, “Fate is being kind to me. Fate doesn’t want me to be too famous too young.”

It would be another three decades before the Pulitzer Prize finally deigned to recognize jazz as award-worthy, cementing its claim as “America’s classical music,” when they acknowledged Wynton Marsalis’s “Blood on the Fields” in 1997.

Two years later, in 1999, Duke Ellington finally received a Pulitzer Prize Special Citation, posthumously, “commemorating the centennial year of his birth, in recognition of his musical genius, which evoked aesthetically the principles of democracy through the medium of jazz and thus made an indelible contribution to art and culture.”

In 2004, the Pulitzer Prize finally, but not without complaints, revised its rules in order to recognize “a broad view of serious music.”

In 2018, Kendrick Lamar was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Music for his album, Damn.

The 1965 Advisory Board is probably rolling in their graves.  Deservedly.

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