2021 McKnight Composer Fellows and McKnight Visiting Composers Announced

American Composers Forum (ACF) is pleased to announce the recipients of this year’s McKnight Fellowships for Composers and McKnight Visiting Composer Residencies with funding from the McKnight Foundation. Both programs provide meaningful support to artists as they create music and explore Minnesota. The awardees of the McKnight Fellowships for Composers are Ashley DuBose, Ritika Ganguly, George Maurer, and Mary Prescott. McKnight Visiting Composer Residency grantees are J.E. Hernández (Houston, TX) and Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti (Honolulu, HI). More information on the artists and their work is below.

The fellowships are part of the McKnight Artist Fellowships Program, created to increase the exploratory opportunity, economic stability, and productive capacity of artists by providing $25,000 in unrestricted support for mid-career artists and discipline-specific artistic and professional development opportunities. The four Minnesota-based McKnight Composer Fellows were selected from a pool of 65 applicants from around the state.

Music creators living in other parts of the U.S. were invited to propose a residency project that responds to or reflects the unique qualities of people and communities in Minnesota. Each McKnight Visiting Composer receives $10,000 to spend time in Minnesota pursuing a self-designed residency project.

“As a national organization, we are deeply grateful to partner with the McKnight Foundation to directly support artists who make their home with us in Minnesota, as well as those who wish to spend time with the cultural and environmental influences our home state offers,” shared Vanessa Rose, ACF’s President & CEO.

The curators who selected this year’s awardees were Carlos R. Carrillo (Urbana, IL), Lovett Hines, (Philadelphia, PA), Emily Koh (Norcross, GA), Isaac Schankler (Pasadena, CA), and Samita Sinha (Jackson Heights, NY).

About the McKnight Composer Fellows

Ashley DuBose (Minneapolis, MN)

Ashley DuBose--Photo by Jonny Stuckmayer

Ashley DuBose–Photo by Jonny Stuckmayer

Ashley DuBose is a Minneapolis-based singer, songwriter and actress. She was a Top 32 contestant on NBC’s “TheVoice” and voted Best Female R&B Singer by City Pages in their 2015 “Best of the Twin Cities” issue. With two albums, one EP and a myriad of singles and collaborations available to the listening public, Ashley continues to build a catalogue of music enjoyed by fans in over 137 countries. Ashley has traveled the country performing at special occasions, local community events, corporate galas and concerts all while balancing the responsibilities of motherhood and entrepreneurship. Ms. DuBose holds a degree in Mathematics from St. Catherine University and was a first generation college graduate. She is on track to be the first person in her family to own a home and trying to show her daughter that dreams do come true with faith, perseverance and integrity.

Ritika Ganguly (Saint Paul, MN)

Ritika Ganguly--Photo by Shinjan

Ritika Ganguly–Photo by Shinjan

Ritika Ganguly, PhD., is a Minneapolis-based composer, anthropologist, and grantmaking consultant, born and raised in New Delhi, India. Her consulting practice and artistic practice both strive for an equality based on difference, rather than on the similarity of things, people, and knowledges.

Ritika was commissioned as a composer by The Cedar Cultural Center in 2016, received the Naked Stages award in 2017, and an MRAC Next Step Fund award in 2018 for her research and new musical work in Baul(Bengali Sufi music/poetry). She has trained in multiple genres within Bengali music and contemporary Indian musical theater. She was recently commissioned by the Minnesota Opera to compose a mini opera in Bangla. ‘Xylem’ is an opera without notated scores, sung in a South Asian folk opera format of stylized speech and narration.

She also received a Minnesota State Arts Board Creative Support for Individuals Award and a Jerome Foundation Finalist Award in 2021. Her vocal and compositional work bring disparate musicianships, musical styles, methods, literatures, and disciplines together. In her performances, she invites adventurous audiences, and her music pushes the boundaries of genre. Her methodology is deep listening, and in her compositions and voice lessons, she focuses on developing aural skills and deepening the aptitude to hear. She is a loose, long leaf, tea enthusiast.

George Maurer (Minneapolis, MN)

George Mauer--Photo by Ric Ide

George Mauer–Photo by Ric Ide

George Maurer’s Work Sample: Old Men Are Fond

George Maurer’s journey as a composer has, in recent years, been propelled on a bicycle, raising funds for cancer research, and capturing sounds and stories inspired by a vulnerability to the elements. Across Iceland’s Highland interior, taking in residency experiences; to Vietnam where he struggled with traditional language but learned about the lingering effects of war; to Newfoundland, where artists talked about their role as change agents in coastal communities. A recent bike-packing journey across Patagonia included interactions with jazz musicians, and research in Buenos Aires on a tango-tinged song-cycle of theater and dance, based on poetry written by Argentina’s famed Latina poet, Alfonsina Storni.

George’s expeditions have helped him launch his first podcast, “Tales from a Bicycle Seat”, which explores artists and issues he’s encountered on the road. They’ve also helped him evolve new understandings of what it means to be a composer: the open air and slow transport aspects of biking inspires new relationships, and music can be found in the stories that people share.

His next project: “Unfrozen”, with librettist Anne Bertram, exemplifies this approach; utilizing the writings of the great explorers of polar regions, and using their words to create music-theater that sparks discussion about climate change in communities of all sizes. “Unfrozen” is inspired in part by a recent bike adventure to the Chilean Antarctic region.

Being on both a bicycle seat and at a piano bench has afforded George access to many people who have influenced his life and work as a composer.

Mary Prescott (Minneapolis, MN)

Mary Prescott--Photo by Adela Wagner

Mary Prescott–Photo by Adela Wagner

Mary Prescott is a Thai-American interdisciplinary artist, composer and pianist who explores the foundations and facets of identity and social conditions through experiential performance. She aims to foster understanding and create pathways for change by voicing emotional and human truths through artistic investigation and dissemination.

Prescott’s output includes several large-scale interdisciplinary works, opera, improvised music, sound journaling, film music, solo and chamber concert works. Featured in “21 for ‘21: Composers and Performers Who Sound Like Tomorrow,” The Washington Post describes her work as “a bright light cast forward… uncompromising,” and “masterfully envisioned.”

Prescott is an awardee of the National Performance Network Creation and Development Fund supported by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts; a National Performance Network Documentation and Storytelling Grant; a New Music USA Project Grant; an American Composers Forum Create Commission supported by the Jerome Foundation; The American Opera Project Composers and the Voice Fellowship; an Opera America New Works Forum Grant; and several state and regional awards. She has been commissioned by Roulette Intermedium, Living Arts of Tulsa, White Snake Projects, Public Functionary, Piano Teachers Congress of NY, Shepherdess Duo and Duo Harmonia. She has held artist residencies with Roulette Intermedium, Lanesboro Arts, Hudson Hall, Areté Venue and Gallery, Avaloch Farm Music Institute, The League of Independent Theater, and Arts Letters and Numbers.

Prescott holds degrees from the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities, and Manhattan School of Music.

About the McKnight Visiting Composers

J. E. Hernández (Houston, TX)

J. E. Hernández--Photo by Spencer Young

J. E. Hernández–Photo by Spencer Young

Composer and cinematographer J.E. Hernández (b.1993) is a Mexican-born, Houston-based composer focusing on elevating personal and cultural narrative through his work. J.E.’s music has been featured by distinguished ensembles and organizations such as the Kennedy Center for the Arts, Houston Grand Opera, Apollo Chamber Players, Foundation for Modern Music, Museum of Fine Arts Houston, Contemporary Museum of Art Houston, the Brazil National Orchestra, and in a wide variety of films, both in the United States and abroad. He holds a degree from the University of Houston. Past teachers include Marcus Maroney and Gregory Spears.

J.E.’s work focuses on both traditional and multi-disciplinary mediums, and he has collaborated with directors, choreographers, and playwrights. His interest in incorporating his cultural heritage from both his native Tabasco, Mexico, and Houston, Texas led J.E. to create Concertia, a non-profit arts organization for social causes. Its mission statement reads: “To empower social causes through the prism of new music and multi-media art,” resonating with his goal as a composer to engage communities at large.

Recent and upcoming projects include hela, a chamber work focusing on the transformative aspect of trauma, commissioned by the Houston Grand Opera’s HGOco, Voces Fantasmas, a multi-disciplinary work dedicated to people in immigrant facilities, to be premiered by CAMH, excerpts of which were streamed by the Kennedy Center for the Arts, and SHEER, a piano trio/film piece to be premiered alongside Ravel’s piano trio for a World War I memorial in the Museum of Fine Arts Houston.

80-Ton Forgings: Equalizing Immigrant Worker’s Voices Through Music is a multi-disciplinary community engagement project detailing the work that migrant workers have contributed to the railroad industry. Before becoming a citizen of the United States, I worked in this industry – an industry which has also been a historic part of the economy of Minnesota. Throughout my time working these trains, I met some truly incredible people with all manners of different experiences, each with their own story to tell. For the migrant workers, which were the majority, it mostly dealt with the arduous journey that they undertook in order to work in an industry that can be unregulated and dangerous. To share their story, to shape it and to share it with the community of Minnesota is an important part of dealing with restorative justice and equalizing voices.

Synopsis of McKnight Visiting Composer Residency Project: Throughout the residency, interviews with these workers will be conducted, documented, and implemented into a new work. Through these documentation processes, an intersectional practice will take shape and prompt engagement in the form of talks and other interactive events that create bridges and forums for these migrant workers to share, learn, and ultimately feel further at home in the place that they helped build. The American railroad industry’s history is that of migrants. To share these stories is a crucial part of reconciliation within America.

Building these bridges, opening this dialogue, and leading these conversations will culminate in a performance of a work newly composed by myself, in a state of collaboration with the voices of these migrants. The work will be presented open to the community, in a state of intersectional multi-disciplinary artistic being. For these migrant workers, intersectionality is their lives – the live in a state of being in many different places, to provide and to live. It is only just that this work, steeped in their words, presents itself the same to Minnesotans.

Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti (Honolulu, HI)

Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti--Photo by Blaise Hayward Studio

Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti–Photo by Blaise Hayward Studio

Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti is a Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) musician dedicated to the arts of our time. A “leading composer-performer” (The New York Times), Lanzilotti is a 2020 Native Launchpad Artist Awardee. Her “conceptually potent” compositions often deal with unique instrument-objects, such as The Noguchi Museum commissions involving sound sculptures. “Lanzilotti’s score brings us together across the world in remembrance, through the commitment of shared sonic gestures.” (Cities & Health) She has been featured internationally on the Dots+Loops series and Sound School series in Australia (The Substation), and a guest composer at Thailand International Composers Festival. Lanzilotti’s current commissions include a new work for the [Switch~ Ensemble], the development and performance of which is supported by a project grant from the MAP Fund, and a new work for the GRAMMY-winning ensemble Roomful of Teeth supported in part by the National Science Foundation.

Synopsis of McKnight Visiting Composer Residency Project: My project proposal for the McKnight Visiting Composer Residency is rooted in the indigenous language revitalization movement happening across the United States. The project is an expansion of my work hānau ka ua (Hawaiian for “born is the rain”). The title of the work is taken from a collection of Hawaiian rain names published by Kamehameha Publishing. In ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi, we have hundreds of words for rain—the time of day, color, intensity, and sound of a rain gave it a distinct quality that inspired this vocabulary.

As writer and scholar Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o writes in his book Decolonizing the Mind, “. . . Thus the second aspect of language as culture is as an image-forming agent in the mind of a child. . . . our capacity to confront the world creatively is dependent on how those images correspond or not to that reality, how they distort or clarify the reality of our struggles.”

My recent work has been grounded in radical indigenous modernity—taking the instruments, sounds, and language of my Kanaka Maoli heritage as a starting point. Encouraging young people to “confront the world creatively,” the arts can provide ways to learn to solve problems through creative artistic solutions. The McKnight Visiting Composer Residency is a wonderful opportunity for artists to explore a depth of community engagement and presence as a central part of their artistic practice.

About the McKnight Artist Fellowships Program

Founded on the belief that Minnesota thrives when its artists thrive, the McKnight Foundation’s arts program is one of the oldest and largest of its kind in the country. Support for individual working Minnesota artists has been a cornerstone of the program since it began in 1982. The McKnight Artist Fellowships Program provides annual, unrestricted cash awards to outstanding mid-career Minnesota artists in 14 different creative disciplines. Program partner organizations administer the fellowships and structure them to respond to the unique challenges of different disciplines. Currently the foundation contributes about $2.8 million per year to its statewide fellowships. For more information, visit

About the McKnight Foundation

The McKnight Foundation, a Minnesota-based family foundation, advances a more just, creative, and abundant future where people and planet thrive. Established in 1953, the McKnight Foundation is deeply committed to advancing climate solutions in the Midwest; building an equitable and inclusive Minnesota; and supporting the arts in Minnesota, neuroscience, and international crop research.

About American Composers Forum

ACF supports and advocates for individuals and groups creating music today by demonstrating the vitality and relevance of their art. We connect artists with collaborators, organizations, audiences, and resources. Through storytelling, publications, recordings, hosted gatherings, and industry leadership, we activate equitable opportunities for artists. We provide direct funding and mentorship to a broad and diverse field of music creators, highlighting those who have been historically excluded from participation.

Founded in 1973 by composers Libby Larsen and Stephen Paulus as the Minnesota Composers Forum, the organization continues to invest in its Minnesota home while connecting artists and advocates across the United States, its territories, and beyond. ACF frames our work with a focus on racial equity and includes within that scope, but does not limit to: diverse gender identities, musical approaches and perspectives, religions, ages, (dis)abilities, cultures, backgrounds, sexual orientations, and broad definitions of being “American.” Visit for more information.


I CARE IF YOU LISTEN is an editorially-independent program of the American Composers Forum, funded with generous donor and institutional support. Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and may not represent the views of ICIYL or ACF. 

A gift to ACF helps support the work of ICIYL. For more on ACF, visit the “At ACF” section or