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Profile: Fun Facts About Yo-Yo Ma

With an incredible talent and a passion for creating “art for life’s sake,” Yo-Yo Ma has delighted audiences and listeners for decades. A child prodigy, this highly acclaimed cellist and musician has garnered countless accolades and awards, pursuing a musical repertoire that spans from Baroque to Phillip Glass. As a contemporary artist, he has worked to keep classic string music thriving through generous philanthropy, targeted education, and a powerful dedication to his calling.

However, there are probably some things you don’t know about this celebrated artist. Even if you think you’re an expert, this list of fun facts contains some little-known Yo-Yo Ma trivia which may surprise you.

Basic Fun Facts

  • Yo-Yo Ma is an award winning cellist and a dedicated philanthropist of the Silk Road Project.
  • A winner of 17 Grammy Awards and a host of other prestigious medals and honors, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts (2001) and Presidential Medal of Freedom (2011).
  • Yo-Yo Ma was named as a UN Messenger of Peace in 2006.
  • “Yo” in Chinese means “friendship.”
  • In 2014 he was the first person to win the Fred Rogers Legacy Award, saying that "This is perhaps the greatest honor I've ever received."
  • He has made repeated appearances on Sesame Street, including this classic one with “the honkers.”


  • He was born in 1955 to Chinese-American parents in Paris, France. Now 61, he resides in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with his wife of 30 years, Jill Hornor, an arts consultant. They have two children, Nicolas and Emily.
  • Ma’s parents were both musicians and began lessons with Ma at age 3, along with his older sister, Yeou-Cheng.
  • Initially taught violin, he switched to the cello at age four, practicing at 4 or 5 a.m. every morning.
  • By age 5, Biography.com reports that he had “memorized three of Johann Sebastian Bach's solo suites.”
  • As a child prodigy he attended the Julliard school of Music in New York City.
  • At age 7, he played for John and Jackie Kennedy in Washington.
  • Enrolling at Harvard University at age 16, he earned his liberal arts degree in 1976.
  • Ma’s career nearly ended before it began. Because of severe scoliosis, at age 25 he endured risky back surgery and couldn’t play for 6 months. The surgery was a success, however, and he went on to schedule many concerts soon after.

Current Interests

  • Yo-Yo Ma is Artistic Director and founder of the Silk Road Project, which began in 1998. The organization is dedicated to promoting collaboration among artists and institutions historically connected to the Silk Road. His goals include exploring how the arts can expand global understanding.
  • He currently performs with his own Silk Road Ensemble.
  • Next month, a documentary film entitled The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble is scheduled for release.
  • Yo-Yo Ma’s instruments of choice are a Venetian 17th century Montagnana cello, nicknamed “Petunia,” valued at $2.5 million, and he exclusively plays Baroque repertoire on his Davidoff Stradivarius (1712).
  • Ma was the first to play at the ceremonies marking the first anniversary of the tragic events of 9/11 on the World Trade Center.
  • In 2002 he performed with U.S. National Security Advisor and pianist Condoleezza Rice.
  • In 2009 he played for the inauguration ceremonies of Barak Obama and at the memorial service for Steve Jobs.

Career Trivia

  • Ma has been on the Sony label for over 30 years and he has recorded 90 albums.
  • He has achieved the rank of Billboard Magazine’s best classical seller.
  • In addition to classical music, has successfully recorded American bluegrass music, traditional Chinese melodies, including the soundtrack to the film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and Brazilian music, as well as a collaboration with Bobby McFerrin.

With an exceptional talent and determined goals, Yo-Yo Ma has inspired people all over the world, garnering fans from every walk of life. He has used his musical gifts to break down traditional music genre constraints, delivering sounds that transcend boarders and languages, conveying peace and joy to the inner soul.

Discover more trivia about this extraordinary artist by visiting his website, reading his biographies, or viewing the many documentaries created about him.how music can increase intelligence