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Anthony Davis

Davis was born in Paterson, New Jersey in 1951. He has a 1975 degree from Yale University, and has taught at Yale and Harvard University.

Davis is a Distinguished Professor of Music at the University of California, San Diego, having joined the department in 1996. He has received acclaim as a free-jazz pianist, a co-leader or sideman with various ensembles] Such ensembles include those that featured Smith as bandleader from 1974 to 1977. He has played with Anthony Braxton and Leo Smith. In 1981, Davis formed an octet called Episteme. He also wrote the incidental music for the Broadway version of Tony Kushner's Angels in America.

Many of his operas have explored people and events from African-American history. In 1997 his opera Amistad, with a libretto by his cousin Thulani Davis, premiered at the Chicago Lyric Opera. Its ambition was recognized but the production received mixed reviews. It was accepted for a production in 2008 at Spoleto Festival USA. It underwent a major revision and the production was highly praised. Opera Today said that the revised Amistad was "much leaner, more focused and dramatically far more effective than the original. And in so doing they [the Davises] created not only a masterpiece of American opera, but further a work that — against a contemporary horizon darkened by undercurrents of racism — resonates today far beyond Memminger and Spoleto USA."

Davis has also explored other ethnic history. His opera Wakonda's Dream (2007), with a libretto by Yusef Komunyakaa, is a tale of a contemporary Native American Ponca family in Nebraska and the history that affects them.

His opera, Lilith, (libretto by Allan Havis) had its world premiere at the Conrad Prebys Music Center at UCSD on December 4, 2009. The story is about the demon figure of Jewish mythology who was sometimes said to be biblical Adam's first wife. It is set in a modern era.

He began working on the music for the opera, The Central Park Five, in 2014. An early version, titled Five, was performed in Newark, New Jersey in 2016 by the Trilogy Company. The librettist for both the early and final versions was playwright Richard Wesley. The Central Park Five premiered on June 15, 2019 in a production by the Long Beach Opera Company in San Pedro, California. In 2020 the work won him the Pulitzer Prize for Music. He is the third UCSD professor in the university's 60-year history to win a Pulitzer. He commented, "it's also very exciting for me that you can create political work that has an impact and speak to issues in our society. I've done my career creating political works, and I never thought I would ever get a Pulitzer." He learned that he had won the prize while in a Zoom meeting with music faculty colleagues, so they all heard the phone call; one of them later commented "Best Zoombomb ever!"
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