Musician, activist, and MacArthur Fellow Martha Gonzalez ’99 to deliver commencement address at The UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music

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Martha Gonzalez, Musician, Scholar, and Artist/Activist, 2022 MacArthur Fellow, Claremont, CA

Martha Gonzalez, who received her bachelor’s degree in ethnomusicology from The UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music, will be the keynote speaker at the school’s commencement celebration in Dixon Court North on Friday, June 16 at 4 p.m. PT. 

“We are over the moon that Martha will be joining us to congratulate and inspire the dedicated and hard-working students who are receiving their degrees that day,” said Eileen Strempel, the school’s inaugural dean. “Martha’s journey, passion, and scholarship closely reflects many of our students’ own experiences. Her work illuminates a path of much-needed community building and change. Our stage could not be graced with a more fitting speaker.” 

Gonzalez’s work is rooted in a lifetime of musicianship and experiences as singer/songwriter and percussionist for the Grammy Award-winning band Quetzal. The Grammy winner and self-described Chicana artivista (artist/activist) grew up in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Boyle Heights, singing ranchera music from Mexico under the tutelage of her father. She did not know how to read music but instead relied on the age-old practice of careful listening and repetition.  

Gonzalez transferred to UCLA from Pasadena College in 1993. She took time off, then returned to the School of Music in 1997 and earned her degree in 1999.  

“I am pleased to be able to speak to the class of 2023. I feel humbled to be able to share some of what I learned and have utilized the many years after graduation,” Gonzalez said.

After earning a Ph.D. in Gender Studies at the University of Washington, Seattle, Gonzalez joined the faculty at Scripps College in the Intercollegiate Department of Chicana/o Latina/o Studies. In addition to receiving the 2022 MacArthur Fellowship, Gonzalez is also a Fulbright, Ford, and Woodrow Wilson Fellow and currently serves as the Scripps Humanities Institute director. 

From albums to books to artistic collaborations to social movements, Gonzalez spotlights and builds the multiplicity of identities borne by human beings. Bridges can be built, borders can be transcended, and unity can be achieved through the acceptance of this truth. As a musician, mother, activist, scholar, and educator, Gonzalez has championed the possibility of connection among individuals and groups via music processes that may never have come together. 

The UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music’s class of 2023 comprises graduates from the ethnomusicology, global jazz studies, music, music industry, and musicology programs. The graduates, along with their family, friends, faculty, and staff will join in the commencement ceremonies.  

“It is honestly so empowering that Martha Gonzalez is this year’s commencement speaker,” said Saveena Patel, recipient of this year’s dean’s medal. “She is a UCLA alumna who has helped strengthen communities while honoring her cultural heritage.” 

Patel, who is South Asian, reflected on the importance of self-expression and cultural preservation. Gonzalez’s activism and artistry have served as a source of inspiration for Patel.

“I had the honor of participating in Mariachi de Uclatlán while studying ethnomusicology at UCLA,” said Patel. “It has been a life-changing experience getting to share such a deep love for mariachi music with deeply passionate individuals who have not only pushed me to grow beyond my comfort zone but have also encouraged me to continue pursuing my own music as a singer-songwriter.”