William Grant Still’s Music Career
William Grant Still’s music career was one of the most celebrated and noted of the 20th century. He was an American composer, arranger, and conductor whose works spanned jazz, folk, blues, Latin, and classical music. He is best known for his symphonies, operas and a host of other innovative compositions.
William Grant Still was born in 1895 in Mississippi and was the first African American to have a symphony, first performed by the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra in 1931, performed by a major orchestra. He spent his early years in Arkansas, studying music and taking a correspondence course in theory and composition. His early works were influenced by ragtime, jazz, blues, and folk music.
William Grant Still had a long and varied music career, working for film, radio, television and stage. He was a leader in the use of African American music and culture, as well as popular and classical music. He wrote several symphonies and operas, as well as arrangements for singers and instrumentalists.
Some of his most well-known works include:
- Afro-American Symphony (1930), which he composed for and premiered with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, making him the first African American composer to have a symphony performed by a major orchestra.
- The Blues (1937), which was commissioned by the Federal Music Project of the Works Progress Administration.
- Troubled Island (1949), which was the first opera by an African American composer to be performed at the New York City Opera.
- The Chocolate Soldier (1965), a Broadway musical which he wrote and arranged.
William Grant Still’s legacy is one of immense innovation and creativity. He was able to combine African American, popular and classical music in a way that had never been done before, making him a pioneer in musical composition and performance.
Today, he is remembered for his significant contributions to American music, and for inspiring countless composers, musicians and performers.