José Antonio Abreu (born in Valera, Venezuela, May 7, 1939) is a Venezuelan economist, educator, activist, and politician. He began to study music with Doralisa Jiménez de Medina in Barquisimeto. Later, he attended the Caracas Musical Declamation Academy (today "José Ángel Lamas") in 1957, where he studied piano with Moisés Moleiro, organ and harpsichord with Evencio Castellanos, and composition with Vicente Emilio Sojo.
Maestro Abreu obtained a Ph.D. in petroleum economics at the Universidad Católica Andrés Bello in 1961. He also studied at the University of Michigan. He has served as a delegate to the Venezuelan Congress. Abreu has also been a professor of the economy and law faculties of the Universidad Andrés Bello and the Universidad Simón Bolívar.
In 1967, he received the Symphonic Music National Prize. He was the founder and director of "El Sistema", formally known as the Foundation for the National Network of Youth and Children Orchestras of Venezuela, starting in 1975. He received the National Music Prize for this work in 1979. He became the Minister of Culture in 1983.
Maestro Abreu has participated in exchange and co-operation programmes with Spain, Latin American countries and the United States. His orchestras have received UNESCO's International Prize of Music (1993-1995). He was appointed as Special Ambassador for the development of a Global Network of Youth and Children orchestras and choirs in 1995, also as special representative for the development of network of orchestras within the framework of UNESCO's "World Movement of Youth and Children Orchestras and Choirs". This project was created in the context of an inter-disciplinary project "Towards a Culture of Peace". He co-ordinates the programme through the UNESCO office in Caracas.
Maestro Abreu was honoured with a Right Livelihood Award in 2001.