Composer Joan Huang grew up and received her early music education with her parents in Shanghai, China. During the China's Cultural Revolution, as a teenager, she was sent to a farm to do heavy manual labour for three years. At the same time, she had the opportunity to learn folk music from local farmers.
After the Cultural Revolution, Huang was one of the very few applicants to be selected from a gigantic pool of candidates at the time of reopening of the Shanghai Conservatory of Music; the closing of which during the so-called Cultural Revolution had denied ten precious years of musical education to many talented musicians. After receiving her BA in 1983, Huang was the only student to be chosen to study a Master of Arts under the guidance of Mr. Sang Tong, the President of the Shanghai Conservatory then. She was the first female student to receive the MA degree in Composition in the 59-year history of the conservatory.
In 1986 Huang came to the United States to continue her education at the University of California at Los Angeles where she studied with Elaine Barkin, William Kraft, and Roger Bourland. She became very interested in creating a style of fusion of Chinese traditional musical language with Western contemporary compositional techniques. She has received several awards, including two from Phi Beta for international students, one Tanglewood Music Festival fellowship and two Aspen Music Festival Scholarships. She received her Ph.D. from UCLA in 1991.
As a composer, Huang has had commissions and performances from outstanding organizations and performers. Huang's The Legend of Chang-e won the first prize of 1994 Marimolin's International Composition Contest.
Other recently premiered works are: Along the River During the Qingming Festival (for Chinese Traditional Ensemble and Western Ensemble, co-commission by Melody of China and Earplay) in San Francisco for the 2012 San Francisco International Festival and Lunar Jamboree (for orchestra, commissioned by Harvard-Westlake Orchestra) in Los Angles in 2013.