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Winning a MacArthur genius grant is an honor, but it's also heavy, jazz cellist says


Once upon a time, Tomeka Reid couldn't afford a cello. Now the jazz cellist and composer is one of this year's MacArthur Fellows who received unrestricted grants of $800,000. NPR's Elizabeth Blair spoke to Reid about what the honor means to her.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: Tomeka Reid is all about collective creativity. She plays cello in lots of different groups of different sizes.


TOMEKA REID: I think what drew me to the cello in fourth grade was the fact that I would be playing in an orchestra or playing in an ensemble, making music with other people. I love being on a team.


BLAIR: Reid is a self-described busybody. She plays, composes, organizes concerts, travels a lot. Lately, she's also been taking care of her grandmother. When her husband told her the MacArthur Foundation called, she was worried it was about another project she had with them.

REID: You know, I've just had to juggle so many, like, music and this family stuff - like, so much stuff that I thought I dropped the ball on something again - you know, like, didn't answer some email.

BLAIR: Reid grew up near Washington, D.C., raised by a single mom. When she moved to Chicago, she found a home in the jazz scene.

REID: I think about the people that encouraged me and who I so respect and who haven't received this type of honor. And I'm just like, wow, this is - it's an honor, but it's also - it's heavy.

BLAIR: With the $800,000 prize, Reid plans to pay fellow musicians to record some of her compositions. She also plans to do a bit less.

REID: It's just having time to, like, breathe.

BLAIR: Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF TOMEKA REID QUARTET'S "OLD NEW") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Elizabeth Blair
Elizabeth Blair is a Peabody Award-winning senior producer/reporter on the Arts Desk of NPR News.