Courtney Bryan ’04 Wins Prestigious MacArthur Fellowship

Composer-pianist’s artistry reveals wide-ranging influences; honor is the 14th for an Oberlin graduate.

October 4, 2023

Communications Staff

Courtney Bryan.
Photo credit: courtesy of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Composer and pianist Courtney Bryan, a 2004 graduate of Oberlin Conservatory whose works explore the African American experience through a range of musical and sociopolitical influences, has been awarded a MacArthur Fellowship for 2023, one of the nation’s most prestigious and lucrative honors.

A native of New Orleans, Bryan completed a BM in composition at Oberlin, an MM from Rutgers University, and an MA and DMA from Columbia University. Since 2016 she has taught at Tulane University, where she is the Albert and Linda Mintz Professor of Music. She is also composer in residence at Opera Philadelphia. Bryan’s compositions have been performed at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, and numerous other renowned venues and festivals.

Widely known as the “Genius Grant,” the MacArthur Fellowship recognizes the creative contributions and potential of individuals representing disciplines across the sciences, arts, and humanities. Each fellow receives a stipend of $800,000 with no strings attached.

Bryan becomes the 14th graduate of Oberlin College and Conservatory to be honored with a MacArthur Fellowship. She follows writer and educator Kiese Laymon ’98, who won in 2022, and musician Rhiannon Giddens ’00, a 2017 honoree.

“It’s still sinking in for me,” Bryan said from the American Academy in Rome, where she is completing work made possible by a Rome Prize awarded in 2019. Still reckoning with the news of her MacArthur honor, she said she’s not sure how she will use the award but that she’s in the early stages of “brainstorm mode.”

“The honor of MacArthur is an affirmation of one pursuing one’s own path,” she said. “I feel affirmed and I feel grateful for my family, community, teachers, and collaborators who have helped me grow to who I am today. I also hope to use this stage of my career to see what things I can help build upon—especially in New Orleans, to further creative opportunities for other creatives.”

Bryan’s eclectic musical interests—which include classical, jazz, spiritual, gospel, and postmodern influences—can be traced to her studies at Oberlin. In addition to her composition major, she studied classical and jazz piano extensively, mentored by piano professors Alvin Chow and Dan Wall and a host of other faculty across the conservatory and college. She was a fixture in the Oberlin Jazz Ensemble throughout her time on campus and she regularly collaborates with a long list of fellow Oberlin alumni musicians.

“I remain grateful for my time at Oberlin: a time when I really got to explore the paths forward and to be in such a creative environment with such amazing professors and classmates,” Bryan said from Rome. “I loved my time at Oberlin!”

Learn more about Bryan at

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