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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 26-50 of 56 Available Recordings
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  • 26.
    Rarely-performed Piano Works - Liszt, Etc / Seta Karakashian
    Label: Roméo Records   Catalog: 7227 Release Date: 07/27/2004   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Béla Bartók,  William Grant Still,  Arno Babadjanyan,  Franz Liszt  ... 
    Performer:  Seta Karakashian,  Richard Fields
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  • 27.
    Vocalessence Witness - Skyward My People Rose / Brunelle
    Label: Clarion   Catalog: 905 Release Date: 02/10/2004   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  William Grant Still
    Performer:  Yolanda Williams,  William Warfield,  Hilda Harris,  Philip Brunelle
    Conductor:  Philip Brunelle
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  VocalEssence Ensemble,  Leigh Morris Chorale
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  • 28.
    Natural Escapes
    Label: Koch International Classics   Catalog: 7634 Release Date: 01/21/2003   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Toru Takemitsu,  Stella Sung,  William Grant Still,  Modest Mussorgsky  ... 
    Performer:  Emily Mitchell,  Susan Glaser,  Susan DeWitt Smith,  Alexa Still  ... 
    Conductor:  James Sedares,  James DePreist,  Donald Barra,  Steven Richman  ... 
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Auréole,  New Zealand Symphony Orchestra,  Monte Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra  ... 
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  • 29.
    American Classics - Dreamer - A Portrait Of Langston Hughes
    Label: Naxos   Catalog: 8559136 Release Date: 09/17/2002   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Florence Beatrice Price,  Erik Santos,  Jean Berger,  Harriette Davison  ... 
    Performer:  Darryl Taylor,  Maria Corley,  Patricia Terry-Ross,  Erik Santos
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  • 30.
    The Complete Preludes Of Chopin, Gershwin, Still / Roy Eaton
    Label: Summit Records   Catalog: 318 Release Date: 02/05/2002   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  William Grant Still,  George Gershwin,  Frédéric Chopin
    Performer:  Roy Eaton
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  • 31.
    Amen! - African-American Composers Of The 20th Century
    Label: Albany Records   Catalog: 459 Release Date: 12/18/2001   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Traditional,  Robert Owens,  William Grant Still,  Henry Thacker Burleigh
    Performer:  George Baily,  Oral Moses
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  • 32.
    Spiritual Fantasy - Weathersby Plays The Father Willis Organ
    Label: Albany Records   Catalog: 440 Release Date: 05/29/2001   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Traditional,  Lucius Weathersby,  Violet George Bowers,  Kevin George  ... 
    Performer:  Lucius Weathersby,  Wendy Hymes
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  • 33.
    Coleridge-taylor, Sowande, Still / Paul Freeman, Et Al
    Label: Cedille Records   Catalog: 55 Release Date: 11/21/2000   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Samuel Coleridge-Taylor,  Fela Sowande,  William Grant Still
    Conductor:  Paul Freeman
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Chicago Sinfonietta
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  • 34.
    Still: Afro American Symphony, Etc;  Olly Wilson / Cai
    Label: Centaur Records   Catalog: 2331 Release Date: 08/12/2000   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Olly Wilson,  William Grant Still
    Performer:  Richard Fields
    Conductor:  Jindong Cai
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cincinnati Philharmonia Orchestra
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  • 35.
    A Tree In Your Ear - Stephen Caplan, Et Al
    Label: Msr   Catalog: 1014 Release Date: 03/28/2000   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Mark Philips,  Yusef Lateef,  Virko Baley,  Alan Hovhaness  ... 
    Performer:  Stephen Caplan
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  • 36.
    Amazing Grace - An American Tapestry / Wissinger, Klibonoff
    Label: Eroica Classical Recordings   Catalog: 3031 Release Date: 02/01/2000   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Peter Schickele,  Howard Tappan,  Traditional,  William Grant Still  ... 
    Performer:  Donna Wissinger,  Jon Klibonoff
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  • 37.
    More Still - Music Of William Grant Still / Videmus, Et Al
    Label: Cambria   Catalog: 1112 Release Date: 10/26/1999   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  William Grant Still
    Performer:  Vivian Taylor,  Robert Honeysucker,  Louise Toppin,  Ruth Hamilton  ... 
    Conductor:  Mark Ford
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Videmus,  East Carolina University Steel Orchestra
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  • 38.
    Still: Afro American Symphony; Beach / Kruger, Royal Po
    Label: Bridge   Catalog: 9086 Release Date: 07/20/1999   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Amy Marcy Beach,  William Grant Still
    Conductor:  Karl Kruger
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
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  • 39.
    Tribute To Sigurd Rascher - Contemporary Music For Saxophone
    Label: Albany Records   Catalog: 331 Release Date: 06/01/1999   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  John C. Worley,  Warren Benson,  William Grant Still,  Karel Husa  ... 
    Performer:  Steffen Hass,  Lawrence Gwozdz
    Conductor:  Kirk Trevor
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bohuslav Martinu Philharmonic Orchestra
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  • 40.
    Merit - Louis Kaufman - Historic Recordings Of American Works
    Label: Music & Arts Programs Of America   Catalog: 4638 Release Date: 01/19/1999   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  William Grant Still,  Quincy Porter,  Ernest Bloch
    Performer:  Terry King,  George Berres,  Alan Neiman,  Louis Kaufman  ... 
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Louis Kaufman String Quartet
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  • 41.
    Pan-americana - The Violin Artistry Of Louis Kaufman
    Label: Cambria   Catalog: 1078 Release Date: 08/01/1996   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Harold Triggs,  Darius Milhaud,  Camargo Mozart Guarnieri,  Everett Helm  ... 
    Performer:  Annette Kaufman,  Louis Kaufman,  Theodore Saidenberg,  Artur Balsam
    Conductor:  Bernard Herrmann
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Columbia Symphony Orchestra
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  • 42.
    Still: Symphony No 3, Festive Overture / Lipkin, Royal Po
    Label: Cambria   Catalog: 1060 Release Date: 05/14/1996   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  William Grant Still
    Performer:  Robert Umiker,  Arthur Tollefson,  Samuel Magill,  Leonard Garrison
    Conductor:  Carlton R. Woods,  Arthur Bennet Lipkin,  Jack Groh
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  North Arkansas Symphony Orchestra,  Royal Philharmonic Orchestra,  Schola Cantorum of the University of Arkansas
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  • 43.
    Still: Dark Horsemen, Etc;  Dett / Denver Oldham
    Label: Altarus   Catalog: 9013 Release Date: 04/16/1996   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  William Grant Still,  R. Nathaniel Dett
    Performer:  Denver Oldham
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  • 44.
    Get On Board / Sierra Winds
    Label: Cambria   Catalog: 1083 Release Date: 06/20/1995   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  William Grant Still
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Sierra Winds
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  • 45.
    An American Tribute To Sigurd Rascher / Lawrence Gwozdz
    Label: Crystal   Catalog: 652 Release Date: 04/07/1995   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  John C. Worley,  Carl Anton Wirth,  John David Lamb,  Armand Russell  ... 
    Performer:  David Evenson,  Lawrence Gwozdz,  Lois Leventhal,  Michael Reimer
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  • 46.
    Still: The American Scene / Clark, Manhattan Co
    Label: Newport Classic   Catalog: 85596 Release Date: 03/28/1995   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  William Grant Still
    Performer:  Howard Cass,  Margaret Astrup
    Conductor:  Richard Auldon Clark
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Manhattan Chamber Orchestra
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  • 47.
    Still: Summerland / Still, Dewitt, New Zealand Quartet
    Label: Koch International Classics   Catalog: 7192 Release Date: 02/01/1994   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  William Grant Still
    Performer:  Alexa Still,  Susan DeWitt Smith,  Michael Steer
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  New Zealand String Quartet
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  • 48.
    Still: Symphony No 2;  Dawson, Ellington / Järvi, Detroit So
    Label: Chandos   Catalog: 9226 Release Date: 01/04/1994   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Edward "Duke" Ellington,  William Levi Dawson,  William Grant Still
    Conductor:  Neeme Järvi
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Detroit Symphony Orchestra
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  • 49.
    Still: Symphony No 1;  Ellington / Järvi, Detroit So
    Label: Chandos   Catalog: 9154 Release Date: 12/30/1993   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Edward "Duke" Ellington,  William Grant Still
    Conductor:  Neeme Järvi
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Detroit Symphony Orchestra
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  • 50.
    Still: La Guiablesse, Danzas Da Panama / Jackson, Still, Berlin Symphoniker
    Label: Koch International Classics   Catalog: 7154 Release Date: 12/22/1993   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  William Grant Still
    Performer:  Susan DeWitt Smith,  Alexa Still
    Conductor:  Isaiah Jackson
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Symphony Orchestra
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