2020 Black History -William Grant Still

All rights to it are reserved by WGSM Photography by Maud Cuney-Hare, 1874-1936

Known as the “Dean of Afro-American Composers,” William Grant Still, born May 11, 1895, died December 3, 1978.

I was fascinated, humbled, and proud to find William Grant Still amongst the greats that I researched. I think we take to much for granted by not knowing the positive roles and contributions made by the Greats in Black History. Especially, William Grant Still.

At the age of 15, he taught himself to play the clarinet, saxophone, oboe, double bass, cello, and viola.

At the time of his death, he had nearly 200 works, including five symphonies and nine operas to his credit.

William Grant Still a Man of Many Firsts

  • Still was the first Afro-American in the United States to have a symphony performed by a major symphony orchestra.

  • He was the first to conduct a major symphony orchestra in the United States when in 1936, he directed the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra in his compositions at the Hollywood Bowl.

  • He was the first Afro-American to conduct a major symphony orchestra in the Deep South in 1955 when he directed the New Orleans Philharmonic at Southern University.

  • He was the first of his race to conduct a White radio orchestra in New York City.

  • He was the first to have an opera produced by a major company in the United States. In 1949, Still’s Troubled Island was done at the City Center of Music and Drama in New York City.

  • In 1981 the opera A Bayou Legend was the first by an African-American composer to be performed on national television.

  • Still’s works were performed internationally by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, the London Symphony Orchestra, the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra, and the B.B.C. Orchestra.[citation needed]

Willam Grant Still composed Song of a City for the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City. The song played continuously during the fair by the exhibit “Democracity.” According to Still’s granddaughter, he couldn’t attend the fair except on “Negro Day” without police protection.

Still arranged music for films.

Still arranged music for films. These included Pennies from Heaven (the 1936 film starring Bing Crosby and Madge Evans)

Lost Horizon (the 1937 film starring Ronald Colman, Jane Wyatt, and Sam Jaffe).[2] For Lost Horizon, he arranged the music of Dimitri Tiomkin.

Still was also hired to arrange the music for the 1943 film Stormy Weather, but left the assignment because “Twentieth-Century Fox’ degraded colored people. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Grant_Still

Awards and Citations

William Grant Still received many awards and citations for his work. In 1961, he received the prize offered by the U. S. Committee for the U. N., the N.F.M.C., and the Aeolian Music Foundation for his orchestral work, The Peaceful Land, cited as the best musical composition honoring the United Nations.

Among other awards and citations to name a few

I recommend listening to Symphony No.1 in A flat major “Afro-American” – William Grant Still YouTube · 27,000+ views · 7/8/2018 · by Sergio Cánovas.


The information listed above from the following websites.

Any changes made from the original information pulled from websites above were made purely for this article about the works of Dr. William Grant Still. A man who I found to be remarkable and extraordinary.

For other notable black conductors see