Luciana Souza

Associate professor of practice

Born in São Paulo, Brazil, Luciana Souza grew up in a family of bossa nova innovators—her father, a singer and songwriter, her mother, a poet and lyricist. Souza’s work as a performer transcends traditional boundaries around musical styles, offering solid roots in jazz, a sophisticated lineage in world music and an enlightened approach to new music.

As a leader, Souza has been releasing acclaimed recordings since 2002, including her six Grammy-nominated records Brazilian DuosNorth and SouthDuos IITideDuos III and The Book of Chet. Her latest recording, Cometa, was nominated for Best Latin Jazz Album at the 2024 Grammy Awards. Her debut recording for Universal, The New Bossa Nova, was produced by her husband, Larry Klein, and was met with widespread critical acclaim. Her recordings also include two works based on poetry: The Poems of Elizabeth Bishop and Other Songs and Neruda. Of her 2015 release, Speaking in Tongues, The New York Times said: “Luciana Souza has used her voice as an instrument of empathy and intimacy, cultural linkage and poetic disquisition…singing wordlessly but with full expressive intent.” Her critically acclaimed recording, The Book of Longing, saw Souza immersed in the world of poetry again. She set poems by Leonard Cohen, Emily Dickinson, Edna St. Vincent Millay and Christina Rossetti to music. Her 2020 recording, Storytellers, had her collaborating with Grammy Award-winning composer and arranger Vince Mendoza and the Cologne-based WDR Big Band, on a tribute to the great songwriters of Brazil, including Antonio Carlos Jobim, Gilberto Gil, Chico Pinheiro, Djavan, Guinga and others. 

In July 2022, Souza was awarded a New Jazz Works Grant by Chamber Music America with funding through the 2023 Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. She composed a piece for trio featuring Chico Pinheiro and Scott Colley. Twenty-Four Musical Episodes, with first lines of poems by Emily Dickinson, loosely tracks a day in someone’s life. From 2020-2023, she was a fellow with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology helping curate Hearing Amazonia, a major music, culture, science and sustainability project led by Dr. Fred Harris, which culminated in a trip to the Amazon in March 2023 and a concert at the famed Teatro Amazonas with Anat Cohen, Evan Ziporyn, the indigenous artist Djuena Tikuna and the M.I.T. Wind Ensemble.  

Souza has performed and recorded with musical luminaries including Herbie Hancock (on his Grammy-winning record, River: The Joni Letters), Paul Simon, James Taylor, Bobby McFerrin, Maria Schneider and Danilo Perez, among others. Her longstanding duo work with Brazilian guitarist Romero Lubambo has received accolades across the globe, and her complete discography contains more than 60 records as a side singer. Her singing has been called “transcendental, “perfect” and of “unparalleled beauty.” Entertainment Weekly writes, “Her voice traces a landscape of emotion that knows no boundaries.” Of her work with the chamber music ensemble A Far Cry, the Boston Globe said: “Her performance was more than beautiful. It was consolatory, and true to the work’s air of ultimate things.”

Souza has been a prominent soloist in two significant works by composer Osvaldo Golijov: La Pasion According to St. Mark and Oceana. She has performed with the Bach Akademie Stuttgart, Boston Symphony Orchestra and Brooklyn Philharmonic. Other orchestral appearances include performances with the New York Philharmonic, Atlanta Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and American Composers Orchestra. She has performed under conducting greats such as Robert Spano, Roberto Minczuk and Jeffrey Kahane. Her work in chamber music includes a fruitful collaboration with the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet, composers Derek Bermel and Patrick Zimmerli, and composers of The Blue Hour, Rachel Grimes, Angelica Negrón, Shara Nova, Caroline Shaw and Sarah Kirkland Snyder.

Souza began her recording career at age three with a radio commercial and recorded more than 200 jingles and soundtracks, becoming a first-call studio veteran at age 16. She spent four years on faculty at Berklee College of Music in Boston, where she received a bachelor’s degree in Jazz Composition. She earned a master’s degree in Jazz Studies from New England Conservatory of Music. Souza continues to teach masterclasses around the world. Most recently she has taught at M.I.T., Berklee College of Music, Frost School of Music, York University in Canada and The Musik Akademie in Switzerland. In addition to her position at USC Thornton, she is currently a faculty member at UCLA and CalArts. She is also on the BMI Foundation’s Board of Trustees.