Profile and Biography of Yo-Yo Ma

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Yo-Yo Ma. Paul Morigi / Getty Images

Yo-Yo Ma Quick Facts:

  • Yo-Yo Ma has over 100 recorded albums and has won 18 Grammy Awards.
  • Along with many classical and romantic works, Yo-Yo Ma also plays a wide variety of contemporary music, folk music, and world music.
  • Yo-Yo Ma plays a 1733 Montagnana cello from Venice, which is valued at over $2.5 million. He also performs using the 1712 Davidoff Stradivarius cello.
  • Yo-Yo Ma is married to Harvard professor, Jill Hornor; they have two children.

    Yo-Yo Ma Biography

    Childhood:  On October 7, 1955, Yo-Yo Ma was born to Chinese parents in Paris, France. At the age of four, his parents enrolled him into private cello lessons (but only after he tried the violin and viola). Shortly thereafter, he and his parents moved to New York City. Yo-Yo Ma continued his musical studies and greatly excelled. When he was 8 years old, he gained international attention when Leonard Bernstein presented him (and his sister Yeou-Cheng Ma) on a televised fundraising event for the Kennedy Center (watch this appearance on YouTube). He graduated from New York City's Professional Children's School at 15 years old. Four years later, Ma began studying with Leonard Rose at the Juilliard School.

    Early Adult Years: After leaving Juilliard, Yo-Yo Ma performed with the Marlboro Festival Orchestra, a seven week-long summer retreat for intensive classical music training, under the direction of conductor Pablo Casals, a Catalan cellist considered by many to be the world's greatest cellist.

    (Watch a YouTube video of Pablo Casals giving a master class at Berkeley in 1960). Yo-Yo Ma spent several summers at the festival, and in fact, met his wife there. 

    To expand upon the knowledge he gained from Juilliard, Yo-Yo Ma attended Harvard University and graduated with a liberal arts degree in 1976.

    (In 1991, Harvard awarded him with an honorary doctorate degree.) Soon after his graduation, he began his professional career.

    Mid Adult Years:  Presently, Yo-Yo Ma has recorded over 50 albums with Sony Classical Music ranging from Bach's Cello Suites to his Brazilian music crossover album. He has performed with many of the world's leading orchestras including the New York Philharmonic, the London Symphony Orchestra, and the Berlin Philharmonic. Today, along with the many orchestral performances, solo and chamber concerts, and record making, Yo-Yo Ma manages to find time with his wife and two children, as well as his Silk Road Project.

    Recommended Listening

    Apart from the Top 10 Yo-Yo Ma Albums, there are many great recordings of Yo-Yo Ma's performances you can listen to on YouTube. The selections I picked for you below are recordings that earned Yo-Yo Ma a Grammy award.

    • (1985) J.S. Bach: The 6 Unaccompanied Cello Suites (watch on YouTube)
    • (1990) Samuel Barber's Cello Concerto, Op. 22  (watch on YouTube)
    • (1993) Brahms: Yo-Yo Ma, Emanuel Ax ‎– Sonatas For Cello And Piano (watch on YouTube)
    • (1998) Yo-Yo Ma Premieres – Danielpour, Kirchner, Rouse (watch on YouTube)
    • (2004) Obrigado Brazil (watch on YouTube)

      List of Awards

      Yo-Yo Ma's incredible 40-year (and expanding) career has attracted the attention and admiration of millions of people around the world. His performances are nothing short of extraordinary, and his albums are highly revered and rightfully recognized. Here are just a few of his awards and recognitions:

      • Avery Fisher Prize (1978)
      • Glenn Gould Prize (1999)
      • National Medal of the Arts (2001)
      • Dan David Prize (2006)
      • Leonie Sonning Music Prize (2006)
      • World Economic Forum’s Crystal Award (2008)
      • Presidential Medal of Freedom (2010)
      • Kennedy Center Honor (2011)
      • Polar Music Prize (2012)
      • Vilcek Prize in Contemporary Music (2013)
      • Midwest Young Artists Golden Baton Award (2014)
      • Fred Rogers Legacy Award (2014)