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William Grant Still:
Black Composers of Classical Music

William Grant Still was a 20th century African-American composer. But hundreds of years before he lived, there were other black composers. And there are black composers of classical music alive today.

Here's another website to help you learn more.

The Music of Freedom
The songs that helped the slaves escape to the north, as well as others that celebrate freedom.

Music heard in this episode:
William Grant Still: Afro-American Symphony
Chevalier De St. Georges: Violin Concerto
Jose (Joseph) White: Violin Concerto
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: Hiawatha
Fela Sowande: African Suite
Adolphus Hailstork: Done Made my Vow
James Kimo Williams: Fanfare for Life
James P. Johnson: Charleston
Scott Joplin: Maple Leaf Rag

Other shows about William Grant Still:
About William Grant Still
The Afro-American Symphony
Paul Lawrence Dunbar's Poetry

Download this month's activity sheet

About William Grant Still
5/11/1895 - 12/3/1978
Born in America

William Grant Still was born in Woodville, Mississippi. He was the son of two school teachers. But when he was very little, William's father died, so he and his mother went to live with her mother in Little Rock, Arkansas.

William grew up listening to his grandmother tell stories about her life as a slave on a plantation in Georgia. And he also grew up hearing her sing spirituals that she learned as a child. Later on, those stories and spirituals found their way into his music.

When William was nine, his mother remarried. His stepfather loved music, too. He bought a phonograph, with which he introduced William to all kinds of music he'd never heard before, including opera. William took violin lessons when he was young, and then taught himself to play the cello, clarinet, oboe and French horn.

Still went to Wilberforce University in Ohio to study medicine, but that didn't last long. Still began his music career in Columbus, Ohio. Then, the great blues performer W.C. Handy invited him to come to Memphis play with his band, and to do musical arrangements for them. That's when the blues started finding their way into Still's compositions.

William Grant Still's Afro-American Symphony was the first symphony by a black composer to be performed by a major orchestra. And he was the first African-American to conduct a major American orchestra. But Still earned his living writing background music for radio and television -- shows like Gunsmoke, Perry Mason, and The Three Stooges. In addition to symphonies, Still's classical compositions include chamber music, operas, and ballets.

See other composers born in America


This Week's Quiz:

1. Which of the following composers was NOT an Afro-American?

Chevalier de Saint-Georges

Joseph White

Fela Sowande

Aaron Copland

2.Samuel Coleridge-Taylor is most famous for a piece inspired by the poem



Ode to a Grecian Urn


3. What famous dance tune was written by James P. Johnson?

Minute Waltz


Maple Leaf Rag

Dance of the Reed Pipes


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