Strings ‘Did You Know’: 2 Famous American Composers Named John Adams Have Won Pulitzer Prizes? 

John Coolidge Adams (b. 1947) won his in 2003 for On the Transmigration of Souls, and John Luther Adams (b. 1953) for Become Ocean in 2014.

By Robert Markow | From the March-April 2024 issue of Strings Magazine

John Coolidge Adams (b. 1947) won his in 2003 for On the Transmigration of Souls, and John Luther Adams (b. 1953) for Become Ocean in 2014. These same works also won Grammy Awards for Best Contemporary Classical Composition. Both composers have spent most of their professional lives on the West Coast—John Coolidge in the San Francisco Bay Area and John Luther in Alaska, where he lived from 1978 to 2014. (He now divides his time between New York and Mexico.) Much of their music relates to perplexing issues of our time: John Coolidge on the sociopolitical landscape, John Luther on the environmental landscape.


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John Adams conducts the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus and the Southend Boys and Girls Choirs in his work “On The Transmigration of Souls” at the BBC Proms in 2003.

There is also a third American composer named John Adams: John Clement Adams. Both John C. Adamses were born in 1947 in Massachusetts, just 40 miles apart (John Coolidge in Worcester, John Clement in Attleboro), both won two degrees from Harvard University (both received their bachelor’s degrees in 1969), and both had the same thesis supervisor there, Leon Kirchner. All three Adamses have taught at some of America’s most prestigious music schools: John Coolidge at San Francisco Conservatory, John Luther at Oberlin Conservatory, and John Clement at Boston Conservatory.

Seattle Symphony recording of “Become Ocean” by John Luther Adams.