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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.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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