William Grant Still

1895 - 1978

American

Biography

William Grant Still was an American composer of nearly 200 works, including five symphonies and nine operas. Born in Mississippi, he grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas, attended Wilberforce University and Oberlin Conservatory of Music, and was a student of George Whitefield Chadwick and later Edgard Varèse.

In 1918 Still joined the United States Navy to serve in World War I. After the war he went to Harlem, where he was involved with cultural figures of the Harlem Renaissance, including Langston Hughes, Alain Locke, Arna Bontemps, and Countee Cullen.

He recorded with Fletcher Henderson's Dance Orchestra in 1921, and later played in the pit orchestra for Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake's musical, Shuffle Along and in other pit orchestras for Sophie Tucker, Artie Shaw, and Paul Whiteman. In the 1930s Still worked as an arranger of popular music, writing for Willard Robison's "Deep River Hour" and Paul Whiteman's "Old Gold Show" on NBC Radio.

His first major orchestral composition, Symphony No. 1 "Afro-American," was performed in 1931 by the Rochester Philharmonic, conducted by Howard Hanson. It was the first time the complete score of a work by an African American was performed by a major orchestra. By the end of World War II the piece had been performed in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Berlin, Paris, and London. Until 1950 the symphony was the most popular of any composed by an American. Still developed a close professional relationship with Hanson; many of Still's compositions were performed for the first time in Rochester.

In 1934 Still moved to Los Angeles. He received his first Guggenheim Fellowship and started work on the first of his eight operas, Blue Steel. In 1936, Still conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra at the Hollywood Bowl; he was the first African American to conduct a major American orchestra in a performance of his own works. In 1949 he became the first American composer to have an opera premiered by the New York City Opera (Troubled Island).

News

Performances

16th March 2024

PERFORMERS
Jugendsinfonieorchester Berlin am Händelgymnasium
CONDUCTOR
Knut Andreas
LOCATION
RBB Sendesaal, Berlin, Germany

22nd March 2024

PERFORMERS
2024 PMEA Northeast Region Orchestra
CONDUCTOR
Peter J. Wilson D.M.A.
LOCATION
Blue Ridge High School, New Milford, PA, United States of America

23rd March 2024

PERFORMERS
Erie County Music Educators Association
CONDUCTOR
Dr. Gerald Floriano
NOTES
Performing movement I only for Afro-American Symphony.
LOCATION
Slee Concert Hall SUNY Buffalo, Amherst, NY, United States of America

23rd March 2024

SOLOISTS
Meredith Johnson; Karl Stobbe; Zlatomir Fung
PERFORMERS
Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra
CONDUCTOR
Daniel Raiskin
LOCATION
Centennial Concert Hall, Winnipeg, MB, Canada

24th March 2024

PERFORMERS
Athens Symphony
CONDUCTOR
Brad Maffett
LOCATION
Classic Center, Athens, GA, United States of America

Features

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Discography