William Grant Still

William Grant Still (May 11, 1895 in Woodville, Mississippi, † December 3, 1978 in Los Angeles, California ) was an American composer.


William Grant Still was African-American ethnicity (where he also had Native American ancestors ). His father died when he was 3 months old. Still grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas, where he attended the high school. 1911 to 1915 he studied at Wilberforce College in Ohio and initially intended a medical degree. Self-taught, he began to compose songs and attended 1917 to 1919 composition courses at Oberlin College of Music as well as with George Chadwick at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, 1918, interrupted by military service in the United States Navy. Subsequently, Still was in New York City initially mainly in the field of jazz and popular music and has also served as an arranger for a music publisher. He also took private lessons with Edgard Varese, one of the leading avant-garde composers of the time.

Still, the Harlem Renaissance movement felt connected. 1930 played the New York Philharmonic, his first symphony, the Afro - American Symphony. Up to this time, no leading orchestral works of an African - American composer had played. 1936 Still conducted with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra as the first African American a major American orchestra. Still was next continued to work as a valued arranger. In 1940 he arranged for Artie Shaw Frenesi whose biggest hit. He also wrote, for example, Willard Robinson's " Deep River Show" and Paul Whiteman's " Old Gold Show, " both popular shows from NBC radio. He later moved to Los Angeles and wrote there also film music, for example, Lost Horizon (1937) and Stormy Weather ( 1943).

In 1939 he married Verna Arvey, a musician of Russian-Jewish origin. 1949 Stills opera Troubled Iceland, the first opera by an African American who was played by a large opera house ( the New York City Opera). With the guidance of the New Orleans Philharmonic Orchestra in 1955, he finally was the first African- American conductor of a major orchestra in the U.S. South.

Still received two Guggenheim Fellowships, honorary doctorates of Oberlin College, the Wilberforce College, Howard University, Bates College and the University of Arkansas. In 1978 he died of heart failure.


Still considered as a doyen of African-American composers. He merged his music melodic and rhythmic elements of its origin (including the blues and Negro spirituals ) with traditional forms of European character. He wrote more than 150 compositions, including five symphonies, 8 operas, ballets, each a solo concert for piano or harp, as well as chamber music and songs. Still today most famous work is the Afro - American Symphony.

Selected compositions

  • Levee Country (1925 )
  • From the Black Belt (1926 )
  • Sahdji (1930)
  • Symphony No. 1 "Afro - American " (1930 )
  • Africa ( 1930)
  • Symphony No. 2 in G minor, " Song of a New Race" (1937 )
  • Seven traceries (1939 )
  • Troubled Iceland, opera (1941 )
  • In Memoriam: The Colored Soldiers Who Died for Democracy (1943 )
  • The Little Song That Wanted to Be a Symphony (1954 )
  • Little Red School House (1957 )
  • The American Scene (1957 )
  • "They Lynched Him on a Tree ", cantata for narrator, alto, choir and orchestra