The American pianist, Awadagin Pratt, was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania but spent his childhood in Normal, Illinois after his family moved there so that his parents could both take jobs at Illinois State University. He began playing the piano at age 6 and the violin at age nine. He also spent most of his childhood training as a tennis player; while in his teens he was ranked in the midwest as a tennis player. At age 16 he enrolled as a freshman at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He turned down tennis scholarships to other schools to take a violin scholarship at UIUC. He eventually transferred to the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore. He chose this school over many others because they accepted him as pianist as well as a violinist . He was the first student in the history of that institution to earn certificates in piano and violin and a graduate diploma in conducting.
Awadagin Pratt first gained recognition by winning the Naumburg International Piano Competition in 1992. He was the first African-American pianist to win this prestigious competition. After winning the Naumburg competition, his career really started to take off. He ended up giving forty to fifty concert performances that year. The number grew as he gave 70 performances the next year. Since 1992, he has performed with nearly every major orchestra in this country, at the Clinton White House, and on Sesame Street.
In 1994 Awadagin Pratt made his debut at Lincoln Center with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. In 1993, he signed with IMG Artists, a major New York City artist management firm. His first album, A Long Way From Normal, was released in 1994. He has since released two other albums. The first is Beethoven's Piano Sonatas, which was released in 1995. The other is Live From South Africa, which was recorded in Cape Town. He has ties to Africa as his father, Theodore, was born in Sierra Leone. In the fall of 2004 he decided to take a position as Assistant Professor of Piano and Artist in Residence at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.
Besides being known as a true virtuoso, Awadagin Pratt is also famous for his appearance. “Pratt takes the stage at Boston's Jordan Hall in a subtle but colorful green-and-lavender striped and checked shirt. His black pants reveal a dash of whimsicality below the cuffs: socks adorned with a portrait of Van Gogh” (Shepard 1998). His attire along with his trademark dreadlocks make him unique on the classical music circuit. Pratt performs the works of many different composers: J.S. Bach, Johannes Brahms, César Franck, Franz Liszt, Grieg, Sergei Rachmaninov as well as many others.
In December 2005, Awadagin Pratt made his recital debut at the University of Cincinnati. Despite his new career as a teacher he continues to give up to thirty performances a year. He will continue to give Piano recitals throughout the USA as well as in other countries. He hopes to eventually play the violin in both chamber and solo concerts. His virtuosity and individuallity will continue to make an impression in the classical music community.