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Yo-Yo Ma
MX MM YO-YOMA (cropped).jpg
Ma in 2019
Background information
Native name
Born (1955-10-07) 7 October 1955 (age 68)
Paris, France
Genres See article
Occupation(s) Musician
Instruments Cello
Years active 1961–present
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese 馬友友
Simplified Chinese 马友友

Yo-Yo Ma (simplified Chinese: 马友友; traditional Chinese: 馬友友; pinyin: Mǎ Yǒuyǒu; born October 7, 1955) is a French-born American cellist. He was a child prodigy. he started performing from the age of four and a half.

Ma has been a United Nations Messenger of Peace since 2006. He was awarded The Glenn Gould Prize in 1999, the National Medal of Arts in 2001, the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011, and the Polar Music Prize in 2012. Ma was named one of Time's 100 Most Influential People of 2020.

Early life and education

Ma was born October 7, 1955 in Paris to Chinese parents. His mother, Marina Lu, was a singer, and his father, Hiao-Tsiun Ma, was a violinist, composer and professor of music. The family moved to New York City when Ma was seven.

From the age of three, Ma played the drums, violin, piano, and later viola, but settled on the cello in 1960 at age four. When three-year-old Yo-Yo said he wanted a big instrument, his father went to see Etienne Vatelot, a foremost violin maker in Paris who, after a chat, lent him a 1/16th cello. He jokes that his first choice was the double bass due to its large size, but he compromised and took up cello instead. When Dr Ma realised that Yo-Yo was ready for a better teacher, a well-known cello instructor, Mme Michelle Lepinte, was selected.

He attended Trinity School in New York but transferred to the Professional Children's School, where he graduated at age 15. He appeared as a soloist with the Harvard Radcliffe Orchestra in a performance of Tchaikovsky's Rococo Variations.

Ma studied at the Juilliard School at age 19 with Leonard Rose and attended Columbia University, but dropped out. He later enrolled at Harvard College. Prior to entering Harvard, Ma played in the Marlboro Festival Orchestra under the direction of cellist and conductor Pablo Casals.

Ma received his bachelor's degree in anthropology from Harvard in 1976, and in 1991 received an honorary doctorate from Harvard.


Yo-Yo Ma performs for President Ronald Reagan
Ma performs at the White House for American president Ronald Reagan, Crown Princess Michiko and Crown Prince Akihito of Japan, and Nancy Reagan, October 1987

In 1997, Ma was featured on John Williams' soundtrack to the Hollywood film Seven Years in Tibet. In 2000, he was heard on the soundtrack of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and of Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World in 2003. He collaborated with Williams again on the score for the 2005 film Memoirs of a Geisha. He has also worked with Italian composer Ennio Morricone and has recorded Morricone's compositions of the Dollars Trilogy, including The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, as well as Once Upon a Time in America, The Mission, and The Untouchables.

Ma's albums include recordings of cello concertos (including, among others, Shostakovich, Brahms, Elgar, and Haydn), sonatas for cello and piano, Bach's cello suites, and a variety of chamber music.

In addition to recordings of the standard classical repertoire, Ma has recorded a wide variety of folk music, such as American bluegrass music, traditional Chinese melodies, the tangos of Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla, and Brazilian music.

He has also recorded in non-classical styles, notably in collaboration with Bobby McFerrin, Chris Botti, Carlos Santana, James Taylor, and Chris Thile.

In addition to his prolific musical career, Ma collaborated in 1999 with landscape architects to design a Bach-inspired garden. Known as the Music Garden, it interprets Bach's Suite No. 1 in G Major for unaccompanied cello (BWV 1007), where the garden's sections were designed to correspond with the suite's dance movements. Toronto enthusiastically embraced the design, originally planned for Boston, and it was subsequently built in the Harbourfront neighborhood.

His music was featured in the 2010 documentary Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story, narrated by Academy Award winner Dustin Hoffman. In 2010, President Obama announced that he would recognize Ma with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which Ma received in February 2011.

In 2010, Ma was named Judson and Joyce Green Creative Consultant of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Ma is known for his smooth, rich tone, soulful lyricism and virtuosity.

Personal life

Since 1978, Ma has been married to Jill Hornor, an arts consultant. They have two children, Nicholas and Emily.

Ma has been praised as a person of unquestionable character, and singled out for his humble spirit, self-effacing manner, and humanitarianism.

Interesting facts about Yo-Yo Ma

  • He began performing before audiences at age five and played for presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy when he was seven.
  • At age eight, he appeared on American television with his sister in an event introduced by Leonard Bernstein.
  • In 1964, Isaac Stern introduced them on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, and they performed the Sonata of Sammartini.
  • Ma has performed with many of the world's major orchestras.
  • He has a close friendship with pianist Emanuel Ax from their days at Juilliard.
  • Ma has recorded more than 90 albums and received 19 Grammy Awards.
  • He has collaborated with artists in diverse genres, including the singer Bobby McFerrin, the guitarist Carlos Santana, Sérgio Assad and his brother, Odair, and the singer-songwriter-guitarist James Taylor.
  • On November 3, 2009, President Barack Obama appointed Ma to serve on the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities.
  • Ma's primary performance instrument is a 1733 Montagnana cello valued in 2005 at US$2.5 million (US$3.7 million in 2022 prices).
  • Aside from English, Ma is fluent in Mandarin Chinese and French.
  • Ma is a founder of the Silk Road Connect, an educational pilot program for children from middle schools in the United States, including New York City.
  • He is a founding member of the influential Chinese-American Committee of 100, which addresses the concerns of Americans of Chinese heritage.
  • Ma appeared as himself in an episode ("My Music Rules") of the animated children's television series Arthur, and on The West Wing (the episode "Noël").
  • He made five appearances on Sesame Street, all of which first aired during the show's 17th season in 1986. He appeared in The Simpsons episode "Puffless", where he played a serenade and theme music.
  • Ma was often invited to press events by Apple Inc. and Pixar CEO Steve Jobs, performed during the company's major events, and appeared in a commercial for the Macintosh computer.
  • Ma made a cameo appearance as himself in the 2022 Netflix film Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery.
  • DNA research revealed that Ma is distantly related to actress Eva Longoria.

Awards and recognition

Grammy Award

Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music Performance:

  • 1986 Brahms: Cello and Piano Sonatas in E Minor Op. 38, and F Op. 99 (RCA 17022)
  • 1987 Beethoven: Cello and Piano Sonata No. 4 in C & Variations (CBS 42121)
  • 1992 Brahms: Piano Quartets Op. 25, Op. 26 (Sony 45846)
  • 1993 Brahms: Sonatas for Cello & Piano (Sony 48191)
  • 1996 Brahms/Beethoven/Mozart: Clarinet Trios (Sony 57499)

Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Soloist(s) Performance:

  • 1990 Barber: Cello Concerto, Op. 22/Britten: Symphony for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 68 (CBS 44900)
  • 1993 Prokofiev: Sinfonia Concertante/Tchaikovsky: Variations on a Rococo Theme (Sony 48382)
  • 1995 The New York Album – Works of Albert, Bartók & Bloch (Sony 57961)
  • 1998 Yo-Yo Ma Premieres – Danielpour, Kirchner, Rouse (Sony Classical 66299)

Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Soloist Performance:

  • 1985 Bach: The Unaccompanied Cello Suites (CBS 37867)

Grammy Award for Best Classical Contemporary Composition:

  • 1995 The New York Album, Stephen Albert: Cello Concerto (Sony 57961)

Grammy Award for Best Classical Album:

  • 1998 Yo-Yo Ma Premieres – Danielpour, Kirchner, Rouse (Sony Classical 66299)

Grammy Award for Best Classical Crossover Album:

  • 1999 Soul of the Tango – The Music of Astor Piazzolla (Sony Classical 63122)
  • 2001 Appalachian Journey (Sony 66782)
  • 2004 Obrigado Brazil (Sony 89935)
  • 2009 Songs of Joy & Peace (Sony Classical B001BN1V8U)

Grammy Award for Best Folk Album:

Grammy Award for Best World Music Album:

  • 2017 Sing Me Home – Yo-Yo Ma & The Silk Road Ensemble

Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance:

  • 2022 Beethoven: Cello Sonatas - Hope and Tears – Yo-Yo Ma & Emanuel Ax

Honorary doctorates


Images for kids

See also

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