Sunday, September 1, 2019

The Big Finish: The Autobiography of Judith Anne Still

The Big Finish: The Autobiography of Judith Anne Still
The Phoenix Rising Series
The Master-Player Library

Judith Anne Still and William Grant Still

Judith Anne Still is the daughter of William Grant Still and Verna Arvey, a White Jewish concert pianist and journalist.  In the Preface, the author writes, in part: "This book is the story of the last of the William Grant Still family who took up this cause with difficulty in order to bring the music and writings of William Grant Still and Verna Arvey to the world and in order that their legacy could empower the movement toward universal empathy."

The first chapter outlines the author's system of beliefs.  Judith Anne Still was born in her parent's home in Los Angeles in 1942.  Her parents were quite protective of her and her brother.  Judith did not attend kindergarten or first grade.  Her parents taught her to read at home.  She was aware that her parents were fearful of something, but she did not know what it was.

Once she started school, Judith began to experience hostility from some people who did not approve of the interracial marriage of her parents.  She did well in school.  She graduated from high school with excellent grades and won a "full tuition scholarship to the University of Southern California."

Judith married a fellow student, Larry Allyn, while in college.  Her first child was born in 1963.  The second child was born the following year, three days after Judith graduated "Magna Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa, with a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature."
Judith had a third child in 1968, the year she earned a Master's degree in English at California State University, Fullerton.  In 1969 she received a teaching credential.

By September of 1970, Judith had four young children.  Her husband Larry was a marine geologist.  That month he died at age 32 in a mini-submarine accident.  

In subsequent years Judith held a variety of positions.  These included answering fan mail for a stage and screen star, working for the U. S. Census Bureau and teaching English at California State University, Fullerton.

Judith's first book was In Foundling Fire, about the experiences under the Nazis of a couple who rented property to her and her husband.  She had several magazine articles published, and one article was published in the Arkansas Historical Quarterly.

William Grant Still died on December 3, 1978 after a prolonged illness.  Verna Arvey became ill about two years later.  Judith then began collecting music and documents from the home of her parents.  She began publishing the music.  She has now been director of William Grant Still Music  for 38 years.

Verna Arvey had written a biography of her husband called In One Lifetime.  She had been unable to interest a publisher in publishing the work.  Judith typed the manuscript and sent it to Miller Williams, Editor-in-Chief of the University of Arkansas Press, which published the book in 1984.  

She writes that Miller "persuaded the North Arkansas Symphony to make one of the very first all-Still recordings - a 33 RPM record that included the 'Sunday Symphony,' which had never before been performed, and other choral and ensemble compositions.  Also in 1984, Williams brought public television to the University to make a documentary for broadcast about the composer."

The author tells of many challenges faced by William Grant Still Music, along with successes which included more books and recordings to sell along with the sheet music.  She developed a presentation which she made at many venues across the country.

Near the end of the book, Judith writes: "The arts and music organize and enrich the minds and emotions, and provide inner knowledge about the metaphysical universe.  A cornerstone of the new age of enlightenment will contain the art and music of William Grant Still and Verna Arvey."

The Big Finish: The Autobiography of Judith Anne Still is available from

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