Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
William Grant Still
William Grant Still (May 11,1895 - December 3,1978) was a ground-breaking African-American classical composer who wrote more than 150 compositions. He was the first African-American to conduct a major American Orchestra, the first to have an opera performed by a major opera company, and the first to have an opera performed on national television. He is often referred to as the dean of African-American composers.
He attended Wilberforce College and Oberlin College seeking a medical degree. He became interested in music and left for New York City where he played and arranged music with W.C. Handy and worked for Handy's publishing company. Still was associated with the Harlem Renaissance movement and was active in the jazz and popular music scenes. Still later studied under avant-garde composer Edgard Varese and George Whitefield Chadwick. He was married in 1939 to Verna Arvey , a Russian-Jewish musician.
He initially composed in the modernist style but later merged musical aspects of his African-American heritage with traditional European classical forms to form a unique style. In 1931 his Afro-American Symphony was performed by the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra , making him the first African-American composer to receive such attention. In 1936 Still conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and became the first African-American to conduct a major American Orchestra. In 1949 his opera Troubled Island was performed by the New York City Opera and became the first opera by an African-American to be performed by a major company. In 1955 he conducted the New Orleans Philharmonic Orchestra and became the first African-American to conduct a major orchestra in the Deep South. Still's works were also performed by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, the London Symphony Orchestra, the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra , and the BBC Orchestra. He was the first African-American to have an opera performed on national television. Additionally, he was the first African-American to run a recording company, the Black Swan Phonograph Company .
In later life he became a popular arranger, writing for Willard Robinson 's "Deep River Show," and Paul Whiteman's "Old Gold Show," both popular NBC Radio Broadcasts. He eventually moved to Los Angeles, California, where he penned music for films, including 1937's Lost Horizon and 1943's Stormy Weather.
Still received two Guggenheim Fellowships, honorary doctorates from Oberlin College, Wilberforce College, Howard University, Bates College, and the University of Arkansas. Still is known as the "Dean of Afro-American Composers".
William Grant Still died of heart failure in Los Angeles, California.
Still is best remembered today for his Afro-American Symphony , a four-movement symphony, which combines themes inherent in much modern blues music with symphonic dimension and meticulous orchestration.
- Levee Land (1925)
- From the Black Belt (1926)
- Sahdji (1930)
- Symphony No. 1 "Afro-American" (1930)
- Africa (1930)
- Troubled Island (1941)
- In Memoriam: The Colored Soldiers Who Died for Democracy (1943)
- The Little Song That Wanted to Be a Symphony (1954)
- Little Red Schoolhouse (1957)
- The American Scene (1957)
- Reef, Catherine. (2003). William Grant Still: African American Composer. Morgan Reynolds. ISBN 1931798117
- Smith, Catherine Parsons. (2000). William Grant Still: A Study in Contradictions. University of California Press. ISBN 0520215435
- Still, Verna Arvey. (1984). In One Lifetime. University of Arkansas Fayetteville Press.
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