Oscar winner John Williams among 19 new members of American Academy of Arts and Letters


NEW YORK — After composing some of the most famous soundtracks in history, and winning multiple Academy Awards, John Williams has been welcomed into a more rarefied institution: the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

The academy announced Thursday that Williams was among 19 inductees voted into the honorary society for musicians, authors, artists and architects that was founded in 1898, with members over time ranging from Mark Twain and Toni Morrison to Leonard Bernstein and Alice Neel. Others elected this year include another prominent film composer, Terence Blanchard, the Grammy-winning jazz musician who has provided scores for many Spike Lee films, prize-winning novelist Alice McDermott and the multimedia artist Matthew Barney.

“Every year I am both astonished and delighted to see the list of amazing new members of the Academy; and it’s especially exciting to see the range of the arts and letters represented,” Kwame Anthony Appiah, the academy’s president, said in a statement.

The 92-year-old Williams is known for such films as “Jaws,” “Star Wars” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” But he also has had a career outside of movies that is more in line with academy tradition. He conducted the Boston Pops for more than a decade, composed symphonies and chamber music, and wrote concertos for bassoon, flute and violin and trumpet, along with a cello concerto for Yo-Yo Ma.

Current members vote new ones into the academy, which has a core membership of 300 and honorary categories for U.S. and foreign artists, among them Meryl Streep and Bob Dylan. Singer-songwriter Rosanne Cash was an honorary pick this year, along with Nobel laureate Olga Tokarczuk, the Polish novelist, German conceptual artist Rosemarie Trockel and the Irish architect John Tuomey.

In an email to The Associated Press, Cash wrote, “I have a list of people in my head who deserve this tremendous honor more than I do, but I will put that list aside and say that I’m completely overwhelmed, overjoyed, and humbled to join the distinguished community of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.”

McDermott, whose novels include “Charming Billy” and “The Ninth Hour,” was at home, writing, when she received an email from the academy telling her that she had been elected.

“My astonishment to find myself in such august company was quickly followed by the realization that I’ve got more work to do to keep up,” she told the AP. “A nice, and slightly intimidating, sense of both achievement and challenge.”

Besides McDermott, the academy voted fiction writer-essayist Charles Baxter and author-critic Margo Jefferson into its literature department. Jazz instrumentalist-composer-educators Roscoe Mitchell and Anthony Braxton, Grammy-winning classical composer Libby Larsen and the eclectic composer-instrumentalist Steven Mackey were elected for music, along with Williams and Blanchard.

In architecture, new members are the light artist and designer James Carpenter, Mack Scogin, who with Merrill Elam heads an Atlanta-based firm and Sharon Egretta Sutton, the architect, author and educator who in 1984 became the first Black woman to teach in an accredited architectural degree program, at the University of Michigan.

This year’s class for visual art, besides Barney, includes June Leaf, known for her abstract paintings and drawings, multimedia artist Simone Leigh, painter Laura Owens, sculptor Charles Ray, visual artist-curator Jaune Quick-to-See Smith and painter-sculptor Henry Taylor.

Memberships are lifetime and openings occur after a member dies. The new inductees will be honored during a ceremony in May at the academy’s complex in Upper Manhattan, where the traditional keynote speech — the Blashfield Address — will be given by political scientist and Harvard University professor Danielle Allen. Her books include the award-winning “Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality.”



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