Famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma was born in 1955 in Paris, France, to Chinese parents, both of whom were musicians. His mother was a singer, and his father was a violinist, musicologist, composer, and music teacher. \n\nWhen Yo-Yo was four, his father began teaching him the cello, and by the time he was five, Yo-Yo could already play several of the Cello Suites by German composer Johann Sebastian Bach. At age fifteen, Yo-Yo gave his first solo recital at New York’s Carnegie Hall. \n\nThroughout his career, the cellist has performed for nine presidents, won more than a dozen Grammy Awards, and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. \nFrom performing for President John F. Kennedy to launching the Bach Project, Yo-Yo has had an impressive career. Here’s a brief breakdown of his life and work: \n\n- __1962__: Yo-Yo’s family scraped together money to visit relatives in the United States, and while there, Yo-Yo gave a concert at a church. Impressed by the performance, a teacher in the audience invited Yo-Yo’s father to run his school’s children’s orchestra. That same year, legendary Spanish cellist Pablo Casals heard Yo-Yo play, and he asked conductor Leonard Bernstein to let the young cellist perform in front of then–US President John F. Kennedy. \n- __1964__: At nine years old, Yo-Yo auditioned for acclaimed cellist Leonard Rose. Awed by Yo-Yo’s talent, Rose agreed to teach him at New York City’s storied Juilliard School.\n- __1971__: When he was fifteen, Yo-Yo gave his first solo recital at New York’s Carnegie Hall. He received a glowing review from *The New York Times* and impressed pianist Emanuel Ax, who would later become a longstanding collaborator of Yo-Yo’s. \n- __1972__: Yo-Yo attended Harvard University. He nurtured a relationship with Jill Hornor, a student at Mount Holyoke College who would become his wife, and indulged his appetite for learning about everything that caught his imagination. \n- __1984__: In 1983, Yo-Yo recorded [Bach’s Cello Suites](https://www.masterclass.com/articles/bach-cello-suites-guide), which would garner his first Grammy win from the American Recording Academy, one of the music industry’s highest honors, in 1984. He has gone on to win several other Grammys for performances of works by [Brahms](https://www.masterclass.com/articles/johannes-brahms-life-and-music), Beethoven, and Prokofiev, among others.\n- __1998__: For years, Yo-Yo felt convinced of music’s power to create change and establish bonds. In 1998, he put that belief into practice when he formed the Silkroad Ensemble to unite disparate musical traditions. Hailing from countries across the world, this diverse group of musicians poses the question: “What happens when strangers meet?” The Grammy-winning ensemble has gone on to compose music, educate others, and foster social initiatives. \n- __2002__: Yo-Yo became the first musician to perform at the former World Trade Center site in New York City after the 9/11 terrorist attack. He played a rendition of the Sarabande from Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1. \n- __2011__: President Barack Obama presented Yo-Yo with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Yo-Yo has performed in front of nine presidents, including a remote performance during President Joe Biden’s inauguration. \n- __2018__: The Bach Project is Yo-Yo’s endeavor to play Bach’s Cello Suites in thirty-six locations worldwide. Around each performance, Yo-Yo and his team work with local thinkers and creatives to host a mini festival of music and ideas.\nThroughout his career, Yo-Yo has recorded more than 100 albums, including: \n\n1. __*Bach: The Six Unaccompanied Cello Suites* (1983)__: This particular recording won him his first-ever Grammy from America’s Recording Academy for Best Classical Performance from a Soloist Without Accompaniment.\n2. __*Japanese Melodies* (1984)__: This ten-track record features Yo-Yo performing a range of Japanese music, including traditional folk and children’s play songs. \n3. __*Hush* (1992)__: This collaboration with vocal virtuoso Bobby McFerrin puts a new spin on familiar staples (everything from classical compositions like Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee” to the lullaby “Hush Little Baby”) as well as new compositions by McFerrin himself. \n4. __*Premieres: Cello Concertos by Danielpour, Kirchner, and Rouse* (1996)__: Accompanied by the Philadelphia Orchestra, Yo-Yo debuts contemporary classical compositions by composers Richard Danielpour, Leon Kirchner, and Christopher Rouse.\n5. __*Yo-Yo Ma Plays Ennio Morricone* (2004)__: Morricone was the Italian film composer behind movies like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Cinema Paradiso, and The Untouchables. Yo-Yo’s recordings of Morricone’s various film scores comprise one of the cellist’s most popular albums.\n6. __*Essential Yo-Yo Ma* (2005)__: This thirty-five-track set opens with an eclectic run of familiar classical pieces, from Vivaldi to Saint-Saëns and Brahms to Shostakovich.\n7. __*The Goat Rodeo Sessions* (2011)__: Yo-Yo goes full bluegrass with the help of three collaborators for a Grammy-winning record that reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Classical and Classical Crossover charts.\n8. __*Sing Me Home* (2016)__: In this album, individual ensemble members selected pieces to play as well as the guests with whom to record. Cross-cultural collaboration is in full force, as heard on a track like “Cabaliño,” which combines lyrics from a Galician Spanish work song with instrumentals from the Iranian kamancheh (a bowed string instrument) and Galician bagpipes.\nBecome a better musician with the [MasterClass Annual Membership](https://www.masterclass.com). Gain access to exclusive video lessons taught by the world’s best, including Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, Questlove, Herbie Hancock, and more.\nYo-Yo Ma began playing the cello at age four. Since then, the cellist has won several Grammys, played for nine presidents, and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.