Wednesday, October 31, 2012 'William Grant Still: Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection, Nov. 3rd, 5 pm'

[William Grant Still (1895-1978)]

WRTI 90.1 FM
Classical Music Radio, Philadelphia
So just how Big is William Grant Still? He came out of Mississippi to become the first African-American to conduct a major American orchestra, the first to have a large orchestral work played by a major American orchestra, and the first to have an opera produced by a major American company. He left Oberlin without a degree, for the East, to music-theater arranging and playing jobs, and his potential was immediately seen. Musicians as diverse as George Chadwick, W.C. Handy, Paul Whiteman, Artie Shaw, and Edgard Varèse recognized his talent.

It was the avant-garde Varèse who encouraged his composing the most, and who recommended his pieces for new-music concerts and publication. Still would later score for films (Pennies from Heaven), for TV (Perry Mason, Gunsmoke), and would compose more than 150 concert works, including ballets, operas, and symphonies.

It was his first symphony, the “Afro-American,” that brought him renown. Howard Hanson premiered it in 1931 with the Rochester Philharmonic, and Hanson would continue to champion Still’s music throughout his life. The symphony is based on blues, which Still felt was uniquely African-American, more so than spirituals, which he believed had become too commercialized.

Still had mixed feelings about the modernist Dismal Swamp. But it’s an evocative picture of the desperate life of the escaped slaves who found refuge in the Great Dismal Swamp, that wilderness spanning North Carolina and Virginia. In Danzas de Panama, for string quartet, string quintet, or string orchestra, he branches out to ethnicities not his own, which, he believed, was what any composer rightly does.

During his stellar career, William Grant Still became not only a leading African-American composer, but a leading American composer. He felt that music—his or anyone’s—should lift up people of all countries, colors, and races. A dean is a senior, respected leader. William Grant Still earns the title.

William Grant Still (1895-1978): Danzas de Panama (1948)
Dismal Swamp (1936)
Symphony No. 1, “Afro-American” (1930)

[William Grant Still (1895-1978) is profiled at, which features a comprehensive Works List by Prof. Dominique-René de Lerma, Recordings, sheet music and books of William Grant Still are available at, which is operated by the composer's daughter Judith Anne Still]

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