An American Tchaikovsky – William Grant Still


William Grant Still from the Eastman School Achive

From the American Scholar by Sudip Bose:

The first time I heard the music of William Grant Still—it was in the car many years ago, and I had turned the radio on midway through the piece—I assumed I was listening to George GershwinLittle did I know how many people have made the same wrong assumption about Still’s Afro-American Symphony, probably the most famous work by a black American composer, or that the question of just who influenced whom was a matter of some debate.

Still was born in Woodville, Mississippi, some 35 miles south of Natchez, the son of mixed-race parents who were both learned and musical. His father, well known for his cornet playing (he founded a brass band and was revered by Woodville’s black community), died under mysterious circumstances when Still was an infant. Wanting to raise her son in a more tolerant racial environment, Still’s mother moved the family to Little Rock, Arkansas, where she taught public-school English while looking after the boy’s cultural upbringing. She took him to song-filled church services and to Saturday salons where prominent black musicians, writers, and actors performed. At home, Still’s grandmother sang hymns and Negro spirituals, and his new stepfather did his part, too, buying him a violin, introducing him to musicals, and acquiring a phonograph that opened up for him the world of grand opera. Still was 16, already adept at a few instruments, but it was hearing Puccini and Wagner that made him determined to become a composer.

Read the entire article at The American Scholar

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