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William Grant Still:
Paul Lawrence Dunbar's Poetry

After William Grant Still wrote his Afro-American Symphony, he found bits of poetry that he thought went with each movement. The poetry was written by Paul Lawrence Dunbar, the first African-American to become a famous writer.

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

Poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar

Herbert W. Martin, professor of English and poet-in-residence at the University of Dayton and Paul Laurence Dunbar scholar, reads the poetry associated with William Grant Still's Afro-American Symphony...

Twell de Night is Pas'

When I Gits Home

An Ante-Bellum Sermon

Ode to Ethiopia

...and offers the following commentaries on these works.

Twell de Night is Pas'

When I Gits Home

An Ante-Bellum Sermon

Ode to Ethiopia

Music heard in this episode:
William Grant Still: Afro-American Symphony

Other shows about William Grant Still:
About William Grant Still
The Afro-American Symphony
Black Composers of Classical Music

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. Paul Laurence Dunbar was born in what Ohio City?





2.What is the name of William Grant Still's piece that includes poetry by Dunbar?

Get on Board

Afro-American Symphony

Danzas de Panama

Motherless Child

3. Dunbar sold his first book of poetry himself to

school students


people who rode his elevator



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