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Kolby KickingWoman
Indian Country Today

Normally, when Raven Chacon is in the studio writing, composing or recording; he turns his phone off.

However, earlier this week the Diné musician did not and when his phone started to blow up, he learned the news of a pleasant surprise.

Chacon had won a Pulitzer.

“I had no idea that I received this award and I was getting texts by friends and family and saying I won and I was completely taken by surprise and eventually learned what was going on,” Chacon said on 'ICT Newscast with Aliyah Chavez.' “So yeah, I'm completely honored and humbled by it all, that my music has made it to that level.”

Chacon is the newest and latest “first-ever” in Indian Country after it was announced Monday that he had taken home the Pulitzer prize for music.

This marks consecutive years where Natives have won awards across at least one category of the Pulitzers.

Watch: Raven Chacon on 'ICT Newscast with Aliyah Chavez'

Last year, Louise Erdrich, Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe, and Natalie Diaz, Mohave and Gila River Indian Community won awards for fiction and poetry, respectively.

Related: Two Native writers win Pulitzers

Chacon won the prize for his work, “Voiceless Mass.”

He created the composition specifically for the pipe organ at The Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Milwaukee, where it premiered in November 2021. Chacon is a composer, performer and installation artist from the Navajo Nation. His art work, currently on display at the Whitney Biennial, is inspired by those who gathered near the Standing Rock reservation in the Dakotas to protest an oil pipeline.

“This was my first time writing for a church organ and I wanted to make a statement about the space that this organ is housed in,” Chacon told the Associated Press. “I wanted to think about the church’s role in the forming of the country, particularly as it pertains to Indigenous people.”

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Outside of his time composing, Chacon has been mentoring hundreds of Native high school composers in the writing of string quartets through the Native American Composer Apprenticeship Project since 2004.

He encourages his students to look at as much art as possible and listen to as much music as they can.

“Art work is a really good entry to other worldviews, you know, thinking about what people are addressing in their work, let's say in Africa, or Asia or a lot of these places,” Chacon said. “There's artists all over the world and for Indigenous artists to connect with them, not necessarily the artists that are working in Europe and the rest of the country but thinking about all these other ways of seeing the world, is very exciting right now for Indigenous artists.”

Raven Chacon

Raven Chacon

Chacon told The Associated Press in an interview after learning of the Pulitzer win that he wants his work to stand as a reminder that Indigenous people are involved in chamber music and classical music.

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“I am happy that this work was heard. I think overall chamber music is not something that can always be accessible to a broad audience,” Chacon said. “There’s an opportunity for anyone to listen to chamber music and I am happy I am able to contribute to that.”

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez congratulated Chacon, saying the artist exemplifies the tremendous potential of Navajos.

“His award showcases the talent, innovation and creativity of Indigenous people and shows our young people that anything is possible through hard work and prayer,” Nez said in a statement to the AP.

Chacon graduated from the University of New Mexico and the California Institute of the Arts and is scheduled to start a residency at the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage in Philadelphia in 2022.

His solo artworks have been displayed at the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Smithsonian Institute’s American Art Museum and National Museum of the American Indian and many more.

He hopes by receiving this award, it brings more recognition to Native composers.

Looking back on his career, Chacon’s advice to other Native musicians is to just keep working at your craft. He said he remembers performing for audiences “that only had five people in them and that's what you have to do.”

“Don't get discouraged and just do what you do and do it often.”

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ICT’s Aliyah Chavez and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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