Wednesday, May 11, 2016

William Grant Still, African American Composer, Conductor & Oboist Was Born May 11, 1895 in Mississippi; Did arrangements for "Shuffle Along," now being revived

Africa: Piano Music of William Grant Still Denver Oldham, Piano
(Cover Art: Jim Schmidt)
Koch International Classics 3-7084-2H1 (1991) (73:00)

On January 20, 2015 an ArkivCD Reissue Alert announced the reissue of Africa: Piano Music of William Grant Still by ArkivMusic.

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)
Available at 

William Grant Still (1895-1978) is profiled at, which features a comprehensive Works List by the late Dr. Dominique-René de Lerma, The composer's recordings, sheet music and books are available from William Grant Still Music, operated by his daughter Judith Anne Still, at

William Grant Still was born in Woodville, Mississippi on May 11, 1895.  He was the son of two teachers, Carrie Lena Fambro Still (1872-1927) and William Grant Still (1871-1895), who was also a partner in a grocery store. 

Young William was only three months old when his father died.  Carrie Still then took him to Little Rock, Arkansas, where they lived with her mother.  She taught high school English there for 33 years.  During William's childhood Carrie married Charles B. Shepperson, a postal clerk.  He bought many 78 rpm records of opera, which the boy greatly enjoyed.  The two attended a number of performances by musicians on tour. 
William started violin lessons at age 14.  Prof. De Lerma notes that the youth also taught himself how to play the clarinet, saxophone, oboe, double bass, cello and viola, and showed a great interest in music.  His maternal grandmother introduced him to African American spirituals by singing them to him.  At age 16 he graduated from M. W. Gibbs High School in Little Rock. 

His mother wanted him to go to medical school, so Still pursued a Bachelor of Science degree program at Wilberforce University in Ohio from 1911 to 1915.  He then dropped out of school.  On October 4, 1915 he married Grace Bundy, an acquaintance from Wilberforce.  Prof. De Lerma explains Still's dissatisfaction with the school was due to its lack of music instruction.

Still entered Oberlin in 1917 to study music, but his studies were interrupted by a call to military service in World War I.  He returned to Oberlin after his discharge from the military, but he soon left to work with W.C. Handy in New York City.

Shuffle Along  is a Broadway show which was produced by Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake, and is currently being revived.  Some of its musical arrangements were done by Still.  The show featured an African American cast and was so successful that it ran for 504 performances in New York City before going on tour.  Still's studies with the composer George Chadwick were without charge.  They took place at the New England Conservatory of Music, where Chadwick was Director, beginning in 1921.  A scholarship enabled him to study composition with the avant garde composer Edgar Varese in New York City for two years.  He also received a Guggenheim and a Rosenwald fellowship.

No comments: