The annual award, distributed by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, includes a $500,000 grant (paid over five years) which the recipients may use as they choose.
Chris told CBS News that he was late receiving notification, refusing to pick up when an unrecognized caller continued to ring his phone.
Thile ignored the incessant phone calls from the foundation at first, thinking they were election-year robocalls. Then he received an ominous message: “Don’t tell anyone about this call.”
His tour manager searched for the number online and told him, “It appears to be from something called the MacArthur Foundation.” It was a name Thile recognized.
“I think I must have turned white,” he said. “I’ve never felt so internally warm. My heart was racing. All of a sudden, I felt very askew physically. I was trying to catch my breath. … I thought, `Oh my God, did I win a MacArthur?”‘
The grants, paid over five years, give recipients freedom to pursue a creative vision. Winners, who work in fields ranging from medicine and science to the arts and journalism, don’t have to report how they spend the money.
Thile, who played with Nickel Creek and is now touring with Punch Brothers, said he may use the grant to fund a chamber music project for a bluegrass quintet.
The annual grants are awarded to groundbreakers in their fields, which include not only the arts but also creative and influential individuals in science, medicine and business.
A complete list of 2012 grant recipients can be found online.