Saturday, August 20, 2011

'My Life, My Words: The Autobiography of William Grant Still' on Leaving Wilberforce University

[My Life, My Words: The Autobiography of William Grant Still, American Master Composer; With additional material by Judith Anne Still; The Master-Player Library, Flagstaff, Arizona (2011)]

William Grant Still Music sells the hardcover book, My Life, My Words: The Autobiography of William Grant Still for $19.95. The composer writes on p. 61:

“When I went back to Wilberforce for my fourth year, matters stood exactly as they had stood after that first summer vacation. I was the same person with the same conviction, being forced into the same pattern which, I felt, was foreign to me. Music was my sole love.”

“At this point, the frustrated young man suffered a terrible blow: on April 11, 1915, his grandmother, Anne Fambro, his most-adored confidant and protector, died. His grandmotheer had been his primary caretaker when school was in session, since his mother provided the financial support for the family by serving as a teacher. The suffering of her grandson on hearing of her passing was long and deep; how he wished he might be with her again, reading to her, hearing her sing, and telling her of his secret dreams for the future. And, to make it worse, after her death nothing in his life seemed to be moving in the right direction, even where his college career was concerned. There were rumors about him that sprang up, which would lead to an unexpected turn of events. He wrote,

“Some of the people who also came to Wilberforce from Little Rock spread the news that my family was comfortably fixed. Added to that, there seemed to be a feeling that I had a future before me. As a result of these rumors, I walked unsuspectingly into a neat little scheme and never did graduate from the University, although I had completed almost all of the necessary work.

“It was just six weeks before graduation, when Still's cap and gown had already been purchased, that the 'neat little scheme' unfolded. A group of girls invited Still and some other boys to take a walk in the woods, even though the college expressly forbade such an outing. When the young people started to leave campus, Still found himself paired off with a female whom he knew only slightly, whose name was Grace Dorothy Bundy (born February 1897). Grace was one of the girls in the high school program at Wilberforce – she was not a college student.

“As it happened, the entourage had not yet reached the woods when faculty members rose up from behind the bushes and trees and took the boys and girls into custody. When it was suggested that all of them would be expelled, even though they had not succeeded in reaching the woods, Still determined that he ought not to give them the...

“chance to expel me. The next day, I packed up my things and left. I don't recall now just what happened to the others who walked into the woods. Later, when I returned to visit my friends, I was requested by the Dean not to do so, after what had happened. I got the unmistakable impression that they were glad this little mishap had occurred so that they could have a breathing spell at the college. [William Grant Still (1895-1978) is profiled at, which features a comprehensive Works List by Prof. Dominique-René de Lerma,] Disclosure: A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher.

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