BCLA Alumnus and Emory Professor, Tony Alonso, is Nominated for a Latin Grammy

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On the morning of September 20, Tony Alonso received exciting news: his album Caminemos Con Jesus (Let us Walk with Jesus) had been nominated for a Latin Grammy in the Best Christian Album category.

“Being nominated for a Latin Grammy is an incredible affirmation from the finest Latin American musicians spread throughout the world” says Alonso. “From the beginning, we sought to create an album that would honor the richness of Cuban music. To have it recognized in this way by this amazing community that essentially shapes the Latin American musical landscape across genres is profoundly humbling and gratifying. I can’t imagine a more significant honor of this work.”

In addition to being a composer, Alonso is an assistant professor and director of the Catholic Studies program at Emory University. Prior to completing his Ph.D. at Emory, he earned a M.A. in Theology at LMU. During his time on the bluff, Alonso was the associate director of music for Campus Ministry and wrote LMU’s centennial hymn, “The Greater Glory of God” as well as his own songs.

Alonso describes himself as “work[ing] at the intersection of theology and culture, with a particular focus on worship and ritual practices.” He credits his time at LMU as crucial to developing his research focus. “The LMU M.A. program allowed me to pursue these questions with intellectual rigor and freedom. Many of my theological questions about culture and ritual emerged out of my work as a music minister for LMU Campus Ministry. The Theological Studies faculty always made space to explore those on- the-ground experiences in the classroom.” In particular he credits Tracy Tiemeier, Cecilia González-Andrieu, and Charlotte Radler as key influences. However, “the diversity and strength of the faculty as a whole is what made LMU such a wonderful place to nurture my theological questions,” explains Alonso.

It was a desire to deepen the theological expressions in his music that led Alonso to LMU. “I had been trained in music, but never studied theology formally. Music shapes so much of a community’s understanding of God and of the Church. I think it’s one of the most theologically formative liturgical expressions. Words set to music stay with us long after a liturgy has ended. And so, I wanted to be sure the music I was writing was not only musically grounded, but also theologically grounded. But ultimately, the M.A. program opened up a whole world of questions I never anticipated.”

To date, Alonso has written over musical 20 collections. Caminemos Con Jesus, however, is a special album. While he was raised in his mother’s native Minnesota, Alonso was born in Miami, where his father and grandparents first emigrated from Cuba. From a young age, Alonso grew up listening to son Cubano, a musical genre from Cuba’s mountains that mixes Spanish melodies with African rhythms.

“I’ve always loved Cuban music in general and the son Cubano in particular. But I’ve always been reluctant to claim it fully in my compositional work. Two things inspired me to finally pursue this long-held dream. One was the loss of my grandmother, Daisy. All of a sudden, I realized that the deepest anchor to my Cuban heritage was gone. Without her physically present, I felt the tug to keep my Cuban heritage alive grow stronger. The second was a trip to Cuba my father and I took two years ago. It was my first visit and my father’s first time back in Cuba since he left abruptly when he was six. It was an emotional trip, rich with meaning on multiple levels. That trip solidified my decision to finally pursue this project.”

While there are a handful of songs written in the past several decades that draw on elements of the son, there are none that have embraced it as liturgical expression.  Alonso however, saw a special opportunity: “The dialogical nature of the son makes it ideal for liturgical singing. There’s a constant back and forth between leader and people.”

Alonso will find out if Caminemos will win a Latin Grammy on November 19, 2020. Regardless of the outcome, he’s proud of his contribution and knows he has broken new ground. “I hope others will continue to embrace the legacy of the son  liturgically.”

In the meantime, Alonso will continue his work as a full-time musician and academic, both of which he views as complementary: “I see my musical and my academic work as different expressions of the same vocation in service to the church and the world. My academic vocation emerged out of my work as a pastoral musician. My work as a musician has been deepened by my academic work. My primary work at the moment is my scholarship and teaching. But I think my music makes me a better scholar and teacher. I need them both to feel fully alive. It feels less like juggling two careers and more like being attentive to what feeds both.”

Update: While the Best Christian Album award went to Alex Campos, Alonso writes on his Facebook page that he “couldn’t be more grateful for the incredible support I’ve received from far and near since we found out the amazing + unexpected news of a Latin GRAMMY nomination for Caminemos Con Jesus. It’s a project that means so much to me on so many levels. And nothing could have been further from our minds than this kind of honor when we began this journey.”