JoAnn Falletta was born in Queens, New York, on February 27, 1954. Her parents were non-musicians but encouraged their daughter in her musical pursuits, which began with her interest as a young child in classical guitar. Falletta studied at the Mannes School of Music in New York and later did post-graduate work at Juilliard, where she received a doctorate in conducting in 1989.
Falletta was appointed music director of the Queens Philharmonic Orchestra in 1977, and during her ten-year tenure took on two other music directorships, the Denver Chamber Orchestra in 1983 (serving until 1992) and the Bay Area Women's Philharmonic, where she served from 1986 to 1996. Falletta was appointed music director of the Long Beach Symphony Orchestra in 1989, bringing great financial success to the organization with three sell-out seasons in her first years there; she held this post until 2001. An even longer association began with her appointment as music director of the Virginia Symphony Orchestra in 1991. In 2015, her contract with the Virginia Symphony was extended through the 2020-2021 season. Falletta became the music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra in 1999, making her the first female conductor of a major American orchestra. This appointment placed her among the most important dozen or so American conductors. In 2019, the Buffalo Philharmonic extended her contract through the 2025-2026 season. Falletta's recording career has encompassed over 100 recordings on several labels, most notably Naxos. Her first recording, Baroquen Treasures, with the Bay Area Women's Philharmonic, appeared in 1990. She has won three Grammy Awards: two for the 2008 Naxos recording with the Buffalo Philharmonic of John Corigliano's Mr. Tambourine Man: Seven Poems of Bob Dylan, and her first individual Grammy, for "Best Classical Compendium," for the 2018 recording Kenneth Fuchs: Piano Concerto "Spiritualist"; Poems of Life; Glacier; Rush, leading the London Symphony Orchestra. In 2019, Falletta could be heard leading the Buffalo Philharmonic on a Beau Fleuve Records album of Respighi's music and on a Naxos recording of Brahms and Prokofiev.