Indian American composer Reena Esmail named 2019 United States Artists Fellow

Reena Esmail
Reena Esmail; photo credit: Rachel Garcia/

Esmail is one of the six musicians chosen for the $50,000 grant for her work bringing Indian and Western classical music together.

United States Artists (USA), one of the largest providers of unrestricted support to artists living and working in United States, announced its 2019 fellows on January 22. Among the 45 artists and collectives chosen to receive an unrestricted $50,000 cash awards is Indian American composer Reena Esmail.

Based in Pasadena, California, Esmail is one of the only six musicians in the nation to receive this grant specifically for her work bringing Indian and Western classical musicians together in her music.

“I am so overwhelmed by the incredible outpouring of love around this announcement,” the Chicago-born pianist and composer wrote on her Facebook page. “I am so so deeply honored to be named a 2019 United States Artists Fellow.”

Esmail works between the worlds of Indian and Western classical music. Her work has been performed at Carnegie Hall and the Barbican Centre in London.

She studied composition at Yale School of Music. Esmail has also taught at the Manhattan School of Music. She has performed as a pianist and as a singer and has been well known for her collaborations with Indian classical musicians.

The USA fellowships are awarded to various disciplines ranging from architecture and design, dance, film, craft, media, music, theatre, visual art, traditional art and writing. These fellowships are awarded to artists at various stages of their careers who are working in the United States.

The selection process, based on nomination, is rigorous.

Esmail joins a coveted list of past awardees including cartoonist Chris Ware, writer Tayari Jones, fashion designers Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte, among others.

In her Facebook message, Esmail thanked the various artists and groups she has collaborated with. She wrote: “I do this work because I am so moved and inspired by the people for whom I write: Hindustani musicians who will pour endless extra hours into preparing so they can perform with an orchestra. Orchestral musicians who will spend their break singing parts with me, enthusiastically embracing an unfamiliar musical culture.” Members of the amazing community of Skid Row, who are battling some of life’s most difficult circumstances, and yet make the time to sing, every Wednesday evening. Immigrants and children of immigrants who find new ways to embrace their entire, complex cultural identity. As they take those brave steps into the unknown, to be vulnerable and connect with one another, I will keep trying my best to write music that honors and fosters those connections.”


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.