Black Music History Facts: William Grant Still

Hey hey!

It’s day 2 of Black History Month, and I’m back with more black music history fun facts!

William Grant Stills is a classical composer and gas had major orchestras play his compositions. He was a trailblazer for the African Americans in the world of classical music.

William Grant Still5874fa-20160229-portrait-of-composer-william-grant-still-1936

  • Born May 11, 1895 in Woodville, Mississippi
  • He started taking violin lessons at the age of 15. He then taught himself clarinet, saxophone, oboe, double bass, cello, and viola (He was pretty amazing, no?)
  • Still actually went on to Wilberforce University to pursue a Bachelor of Science degree.
  • He conducted the band at his university and started composing and orchestrating…all while teaching himself to play more instruments.
  • Received a scholarship to study at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music.
  • He was a student of George Whitefield Chadwick and later Edgard Varèse. (Both were composers/musicians)
  • Worked as an arranger for popular music
  • Played in the pit for various musicals
  • In 1934, we starting writing his first opera. He went on to write 8 operas.
  • In 1949 his opera, Troubled Island, was performed by the New York City Opera. It was the first opera by an African American to be performed by a major company.
  • He went on to conduct the New Orleans Philharmonic in 1955. He was the first African American to conduct a major orchestra in the south.
  • He was also the first African American to have an opera performed on television in the US. A Bayou Legend premiered on PBS in 1981.

Afro-American Symphony – I. Moderato Assai

This symphony was the first one written by an African American and performed in the US by a major orchestra. As you’ll hear, this piece has classical and blues elements. The best of both worlds!

 

 

 

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