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William Grant Still:
About William Grant Still


William Grant Still has been called the Dean of Afro-American composers. Judith Anne Still, the composer's daughter, talks with Naomi Lewin about her father's life, and the difficulty he faced in the first half of 20th century America as a black man writing classical music.

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

Judith Anne Still

The daughter of William Grant Still, Judith Anne Still now dedicates herself to getting her father's music recorded and played by orchestras. She visited WGUC in May 2000. Here are excerpts from her conversation with Naomi Lewin.

A victrola brings opera music into the home, inspiring William Grant Still from a young age

Still's start in music

Still prayed that music would help him bring races together

Race relations through music were his proudest moments

His creative process'

Still was constantly revising his music

Still couldn't get his music recorded while he was alive

Music heard in this episode:
William Grant Still: Danzas de Panama
William Grant Still: Indian Moccasin Game
William Grant Still: (spiritual) Motherless Child
William Grant Still: Garde Piti Mulet La
William Grant Still: Afro-American Symphony
William Grant Still: Symphony #2
William Grant Still: Get on Board

Other shows about William Grant Still:
The Afro-American Symphony
Paul Lawrence Dunbar's Poetry
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. William Grant Still's grandmother sang what sort of music to him?

spirituals

operas

musicals

nursery rhymes


2.William Grant Still was the first African-American to

win an Oscar

conduct a major American orchestra

play the piano in a public concert

compose an oper


3. What new invention did Still's stepfather bring into the house?

electric guitar

phonograph

player piano

CD player



 

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