Shaw was born in Greenville, North Carolina and began playing the violin when she was two years old. Her mother was her first teacher. She began writing music when she was ten years old, mostly in imitation of the chamber music of Mozart and Brahms. At the time, her main focus was on violin performance. Shaw received her Bachelor of Music (violin performance) from Rice University in 2004, and her master's degree (violin) from Yale University in 2007. She entered the PhD program in composition in Princeton University in 2010.
At 30, Shaw became the youngest recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Music for her composition Partita for 8 Voices. The jury citation praised the composition as "a highly polished and inventive a cappella work uniquely embracing speech, whispers, sighs, murmurs, wordless melodies and novel vocal effects." The work comprises four movements inspired by the baroque dance forms: Allemande, Sarabande, Courante and Passacaglia. A recording of the work has been released by New Amsterdam Records on 30 October 2012, performed by the ensemble Roomful of Teeth. According to Steven Mackey, chair of the Department of Music at Princeton, this is the first Pulitzer Prize awarded to a member of the department. (Milton Babbitt was awarded a Pulitzer citation in 1982 for his life's work as a composer.)
Besides composition, Shaw is known as a musician appearing in many guises. She performs primarily as violinist with the American Contemporary Music Ensemble (ACME) and as vocalist with Roomful of Teeth. She also works with the Trinity Wall Street Choir, Alarm Will Sound, Wordless Music Orchestra, Ensemble Signal, AXIOM, The Yehudim, Victoire, Opera Cabal, the Mark Morris Dance Group Ensemble, Hotel Elefant, the Oracle Hysterical, Red Light New Music, Robert Mealy's Yale Baroque Ensemble.
Her works have been performed by Roomful of Teeth, So Percussion, ACME, the Brentano String Quartet, and the Brooklyn Youth Chorus. Shaw has been a Yale Baroque Ensemble fellow and a Rice University Goliard fellow. She received the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship in 2004/5.
Shaw is the great-great granddaughter of Chang Bunker, and great great grandniece of Eng Bunker, conjoined twins from then-Siam who received great notoriety during their lifetime,( see Chang and Eng Bunker).
- Tsioulcas, Anastasia (April 15, 2013). "Caroline Shaw, 30, Wins Pulitzer For Music". Deceptive Cadence. NPR. Retrieved June 1, 2015.
- Fetters, Ashley (April 16, 2013). "Hear the Weird, Lovely A Cappella Suite That Won the Pulitzer Prize for Music". The Atlantic. Retrieved June 1, 2015.
- Lowder, J. Bryan (April 17, 2013). "The Strange, Beautiful Music That Won the Pulitzer This Year". Slate. Retrieved June 1, 2015.
- Tommasini, Anthony (November 5, 2013). "The Pulitzer Prize Was Nice and All, but a Work Is Finally Fully Heard: Caroline Shaw’s ‘Partita’ Has Premiere by Roomful of Teeth". The New York Times. Retrieved June 1, 2015.
- Pulitzer Prize citation
- Princeton University News
- Caroline Shaw's Official Website
- Rice University News
- 2004–2005 Fellows, Thomas J. Watson Fellowship