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William Grant Still

Biography

Born: May 11, 1895; Woodville, MS   Died: December 3, 1978; Los Angeles, CA  
"With humble thanks to God, the Source of Inspiration." Such is the inscription to be found on the scores of the works of William Grant Still, sometimes called "The Dean of African-American Composers" and one of America's most versatile musicians.

Still was but three months old when his father, the town bandmaster, died. Shortly thereafter, his family moved to Little Rock, AK. Still has written movingly of the
Read more influence his mother and grandmother had in forming his character and instilling in him a love for the arts. In addition, his new stepfather was a big music fan, and encouraged his stepson's interest by taking him to operettas and buying him recordings. Still's education continued at Wilberforce University, which he entered at age sixteen, and at the Oberlin Conservatory, where he studied theory and composition. He also had studies with George W. Chadwick and Edgard Varèse, all the while supporting himself by playing in orchestras and bands.

After a stint in the U.S. Navy in 1918, Still did arrangements for W. C. Handy and Paul Whiteman, played oboe in the famous Noble Sissle-Eubie Blake revue Shuffle Along, and began a decades-long association with radio, arranging and producing programs for the Mutual and Columbia networks. His early compositions were fairly dissonant and complex (perhaps under Varèse's influence); he made a major breakthrough when he took Chadwick's advice and started incorporating elements of African American and popular musical styles into his works. His first big hit, and his best-known work to this day, is his first symphony, the "Afro-American," which was given its premiere in Rochester, NY, in 1931, and was soon performed all over the world.

After moving to Los Angeles in 1934, Still turned his attention to film, providing the scores for movies like Lost Horizon and the original Pennies from Heaven. Later he also scored a number of television shows, including Perry Mason and Gunsmoke. Guggenheim and Rosenwald Fellowships allowed him to produce large-scale works like the ballet Lenox Avenue (1937) and the operas Blue Steel (1935) and Troubled Island (1938). The last-named work -- with a libretto by Langston Hughes and based on the life of Dessalines, the first Emperor of Haiti and one of the major figures in Haiti's independence -- was premiered by the New York City Opera in 1949 and was very well received.

Still continued to write politically and racially conscious works throughout his life, such as the narrated work And They Lynched Him On A Tree (1940) and In Memoriam: The Colored Soldiers Who Died For Democracy (1944). In the 1950s, he turned to writing children's works, such as The American Scene (1957), a set of five suites for young people based on geographic regions of the United States.

In 1981, Still's opera A Bayou Legend was the first by an African-American composer to be performed on national television. He was also the first African American to conduct a major U.S. orchestra (when he led the Los Angeles Philharmonic in a Hollywood Bowl concert of his own music), and the first African-American composer to have his works performed by major American orchestras and opera companies. Read less
American Classics - Still: Afro-American Symphony / Jeter
Release Date: 03/22/2005   Label: Naxos  
Catalog: 8559174   Number of Discs: 1
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American Classics - Still: Piano Music / Boozer
Release Date: 09/20/2005   Label: Naxos  
Catalog: 8559210   Number of Discs: 1
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William Grant Still: Symphonies No 4 & 5, Etc / John Jeter, Et Al
Release Date: 10/27/2009   Label: Naxos  
Catalog: 8559603   Number of Discs: 1
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Still: Symphonies 2 & 3, Wood Notes / Jeter, Fort Smith Symphony
Release Date: 12/13/2011   Label: Naxos  
Catalog: 8559676   Number of Discs: 1
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Browse 1-25 of 56 Available Recordings
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  • 1.
    Rarely Performed Piano Works, Vol. 2 / Seta Karakashian
    Label: Roméo Records   Catalog: 7298 Release Date: 12/10/2013   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  William Grant Still,  Richard Strauss,  Aexander Spendiarian,  Georges Bizet
    Performer:  Seta Karakashian
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  • 2.
    Violin Lullabies / Rachel Barton Pine
    Label: Cedille Records   Catalog: 139 Release Date: 04/30/2013   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Johannes Brahms,  Eugène Ysaÿe,  Vladimir I. Rebikov,  Amy Marcy Beach  ... 
    Performer:  Rachel Barton Pine,  Matthew Hagle
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  • 3.
    Exiles' Cafe / Lara Downes
    Label: Steinway & Sons   Catalog: 30016 Release Date: 02/26/2013   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Béla Bartók,  Frédéric Chopin,  Sergei Prokofiev,  Bohuslav Martinu  ... 
    Performer:  Lara Downes
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  • 4.
    Piano Duo Project / Adderley, Holliday
    Label: Albany Records   Catalog: 1383 Release Date: 11/13/2012   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Dolores White,  William Grant Still,  Hale Smith,  Cedric Adderley
    Performer:  Meisha Adderley,  Stacey Holliday
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Adderley & Holliday Piano Duo
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  • 5.
    But Not Forgotten - Clarinet Music By African American Composers / Eley, DeSa
    Label: Sono Luminus   Catalog: 92156 Release Date: 07/31/2012   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Dorothy Rudd Moore,  Alvin Batiste,  Clarence Cameron White,  Undine Smith Moore  ... 
    Performer:  Marcus Eley,  Lucerne DeSa
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  • 6.
    Still: Symphonies 2 & 3, Wood Notes / Jeter, Fort Smith Symphony
    Label: Naxos   Catalog: 8559676 Release Date: 12/13/2011   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  William Grant Still
    Conductor:  John Jeter
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Fort Smith Symphony
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  • 7.
    Frenesi / Artie Shaw
    Label: Rca   Catalog: 61064 Release Date: 10/04/2010   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Cole Porter,  Artie Shaw,  George Gershwin,  Alberto Dominguez  ... 
    Conductor:  Artie Shaw
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Artie Shaw Orchestra
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  • 8.
    Label: Composers Recordings, Inc. (Cri)   Catalog: 259 Release Date: 09/01/2010   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Alan Hovhaness,  Bernard Rogers,  Roy Travis,  Arthur Cohn  ... 
    Conductor:  Arthur Bennet Lipkin
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
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  • 9.
    William Grant Still: Symphonies No 4 & 5, Etc / John Jeter, Et Al
    Label: Naxos   Catalog: 8559603 Release Date: 10/27/2009   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  William Grant Still
    Conductor:  John Jeter
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Fort Smith Symphony
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  • 10.
    Works By Moross, Still, Osborn & Dietz / Toledo Clarinets
    Label: Cambria   Catalog: 1190 Release Date: 10/27/2009   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Jerome Moross,  William Grant Still,  Sean Osborn,  Christopher Dietz
    Performer:  Kevin Schempf,  Elliot Ross,  Chelsea II Tipton,  Greg Kostraba  ... 
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Toledo Clarinets
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  • 11.
    Wondrous Free - Songs Of America II / Thomas Hampson
    Label: Thomas Hampson Media   Catalog: 5432 Release Date: 09/15/2009   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Stephen Foster,  Edward MacDowell,  Sidney Homer,  Charles Ives  ... 
    Performer:  Thomas Hampson,  Craig Rutenberg,  Wolfram Rieger
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  • 12.
    Variations on America - Organ Works / Iain Quinn
    Label: Chandos   Catalog: 10489 Release Date: 05/26/2009   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Stephen Paulus,  Samuel Barber,  Henry Cowell,  Charles Ives  ... 
    Performer:  Iain Quinn
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  • 13.
    Kelly Hall-Tompkins - In My Own Voice
    Label: Msr   Catalog: 1278 Release Date: 01/13/2009   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  David Nathaniel Baker,  William Grant Still,  Camille Saint-Saëns,  Johann Sebastian Bach  ... 
    Performer:  Kelly Hall-Tompkins,  Craig Ketter,  Anna Reinersman
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  • 14.
    Here's One
    Label: Four-tay   Catalog: 4005 Release Date: 01/01/2009   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Florence Beatrice Price,  Aaron Copland,  Henry Cowell,  Lee Hoiby  ... 
    Performer:  Zina Schiff,  Cameron Grant
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  • 15.
    Legacy - Still, Kay, Etc / Lecolion Washington, Et Al
    Label: Albany Records   Catalog: 1038 Release Date: 08/12/2008   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Ed Bland,  Gary Powell Nash,  Ulysses S. Kay,  Adolphus Hailstork  ... 
    Performer:  Lecolion Washington,  Carina Washington,  Mark Ensley
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  • 16.
    Dring, Still, Damase / The Spectral Trio
    Label: Blue Griffin   Catalog: 125 Release Date: 02/19/2008   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Jean-Michel Damase,  William Grant Still,  Madeleine Dring
    Performer:  Kimberly Schmidt,  Richard Sherman,  Jan Eberle
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Spectral Trio
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  • 17.
    Label: Viola Concerts   Catalog: 5637357021 Release Date: 12/12/2006   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  William Grant Still,  David Baker,  John W. II Work
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  • 18.
    I Hear America Singing / Thomas Hampson
    Label: Orfeo D'or   Catalog: 707062 Release Date: 10/31/2006   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Charles Villiers Stanford,  Erich Wolfgang Korngold,  Ned Rorem,  Charles Naginski  ... 
    Performer:  Thomas Hampson,  Wolfram Rieger,  Malcolm Martineau
    CD: $39.99
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  • 19.
    Music Of William Grant Still / Alfred, Panton
    Label: Centaur Records   Catalog: 2750 Release Date: 11/29/2005   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  William Grant Still
    Performer:  Clifford Panton,  Jason Alfred
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  • 20.
    American Classics - Still: Piano Music / Boozer
    Label: Naxos   Catalog: 8559210 Release Date: 09/20/2005   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  William Grant Still
    Performer:  Mark Boozer
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  • 21.
    Still: Highway One, Usa / Brunelle
    Label: Albany Records   Catalog: 734 Release Date: 03/29/2005   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  William Grant Still
    Performer:  Pamela Dillard,  Ray M. Wade,  Robert Honeysucker,  Louise Toppin
    Conductor:  Philip Brunelle
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  VocalEssence Ensemble,  St. Olaf Orchestra
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  • 22.
    American Classics - Still: Afro-American Symphony / Jeter
    Label: Naxos   Catalog: 8559174 Release Date: 03/22/2005   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  William Grant Still
    Conductor:  John Jeter
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Fort Smith Symphony
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  • 23.
    Warren, Still, Saylor / Waites
    Label: Cambria   Catalog: 1141 Release Date: 12/28/2004   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Elinor Remick Warren,  William Grant Still,  Richard Saylor,  Lloyd Rodgers
    Performer:  Althea Waites,  Mark Uranker
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  • 24.
    Southern Quilt / Greg Mccallum
    Label: Msr   Catalog: 1092 Release Date: 08/31/2004   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Julie Harris,  Frederic Rzewski,  Kenneth Frazelle,  William Grant Still  ... 
    Performer:  Greg McCallum,  Brad Kintner,  Odessa Jr. Shaw
    On sale! $13.98
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  • 25.
    Vintage America / Calico Winds
    Label: Albany Records   Catalog: 693 Release Date: 08/31/2004   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  William Mason,  Scott Joplin,  Daniel Gregory Mason,  David B. Chadwick  ... 
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Calico Winds
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