Yo-Yo Ma was born in October 7, 1955, to Chinese parents living in Paris. His mother, Marina Lu, was a singer and his father, Hiao-Tsiun Ma, was a violinist and professor of music at Nanjing National Central University.
He began playing the cello with his father at age four. Three years later, his family moved to New York City, and he continued his cello studies at the Juilliard School. After his conservatory training, he attended Harvard University, graduating with a degree in anthropology in 1976.
Prior to entering Harvard, Ma played in the Marlboro Festival Orchestra under the direction of cellist and conductor Pablo Casals. There he met and fell in love with festival administrator Jill Hornor. They married in 1978.
Ma has performed with many of the world’s major orchestras. He has also played chamber music, often with the pianist Emanuel Ax, with whom he has a close friendship from their days together at the Juilliard School of Music in New York.
Ma has an eclectic repertoire which include Baroque pieces; American bluegrass music; traditional Chinese melodies, including the soundtrack to the film Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon; the tangos of Argentinian composer Ástor Piazzolla; Brazilian music; a collaboration with Bobby McFerrin; as well as the work of modern minimalist Philip Glass.
Ma formed the Silk Road Ensemble, bringing together musicians from diverse countries historically linked via the Silk Road, the famous route which for more than two thousand years was used for trade, notably spices, all the way across Europe and Asia to China. He also founded the Silk Road Connect, involving children from middle schools in the United States.
Ma is known for his smooth, rich tone as well as his virtuosity, and his humble spirit and humanitarianism. He has recorded more than 90 albums and received 18 Grammy Awards.