Navajo composer wins Pulitzer for music

Raven Chacon, an Albuquerque, NM-based artist and composer who is a member of the Navajo Nation, has been awarded this year’s Pulitzer Prize for Music for “Voiceless Mass,” a piece for pipe organ with strings, winds and percussion.

The work, which was introduced in November 2021 at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Milwaukee, is described by Chacon as “giving voice to the voiceless, when ceding space is never an option for those in power.”

In an interview with The New York Times’ Javier C. Hernández, the composer said that he was able during the Covid-19 pandemic “to focus on some of the cries of people who were feeling injustices around them. Lockdown was this time of quietness where there was an opportunity for those sounds and cries to emerge.”

The Pulitzer judges describe “Voiceless Mass” as “a mesmerizing, original work for organ and ensemble that evokes the weight of history in a church setting, a concentrated and powerful musical expression with a haunting visceral impact.”

The prize “was an unexpected honor for an artist who has worked across genres – music, video, printmaking – to shine light on the struggles facing Indigenous people,” Hernández writes in a profile of Chacon: