William Grant Still and Verna Arvey Papers
Scope and Content Note
The careers of William Grant Still and Verna Arvey were far-reaching as they related to not only the emerging status of African-Americans in classical music, but also as they related to United States social history, race relations and politics. The William Grant Still and Verna Arvey collection contains materials that span the 20th century, and it serves as a rare testament to a period of time in which little documentation exists for African-Americans in American history.
The papers consist of professional and personal correspondence of William Grant Still and Verna Arvey as well as biographical documents, including certificates, diaries, dreambooks, scrapbooks, and predictions. In addition, research files, literary manuscripts, and photographs further document the lives of Still and Arvey. Audio tapes and the musical scores of Still, many in collaboration with Arvey, librettist and lyricist, form another important component of these papers. The literary and musical manuscripts of other writers and composers found in the papers further enhance the collection.
The collection is very extensive, but not all-inclusive. Other materials from the Estate are available through William Grant Still Music (see contact information above.)
The material in the William Grant Still and Verna Arvey Papers has been divided into four groups, each of which has been divided into its own series and subseries. Box numbers are consecutive throughout the collection, but series and subseries are numbered within each group.
- Still, William Grant, 1895-1978 (Person)
Language of Materials
Materials are in English.
Please call (479) 575-8444 or email firstname.lastname@example.org at least two weeks in advance of your arrival to ensure availability of the materials.
Copyright: All publication and performance rights are retained by the Estate of William Grant Still and Verna Arvey. Permission to reproduce any materials and photographs in the collection must be obtained from the Estate of William Grant Still and Verna Arvey. All permissions must be in writing. The Estate can be contacted at:
William Grant Still Music
809 W. Riordan Road, Suite 100, Box 109
Flagstaff, AZ 86001-0810
Phone: (928) 526-9355
Fax: (928) 526-0321
For further information, contact the Head of the Special Collections Department.
Scrapbooks, Volumes 1-84, are restricted due to their fragility. Microfilm is available to researchers. Volumes 85-101 are not microfilmed and may be handled by researchers.
No Interlibrary Loan.
Standard Federal Copyright Laws Apply (U.S. Title 17).
WILLIAM GRANT STILL
William Grant Still was born on May 11, 1895, in Woodville, Mississippi, to William Grant Still, Sr. and Carrie Lena Fambro. Before he was a year old, Still's father died, and his widowed mother arrived in Little Rock, Arkansas, with "Babe Will" to be with her mother, Anne Fambro. Carrie Still taught English in the Little Rock schools, and she did eventually remarry; Charles B. Shepperson, a railway postal clerk, became Still's stepfather. Still's early years were influenced by his mother's discipline and love of learning, his maternal grandmother's singing of Negro spirituals, and his stepfather's collection of Red Seal phonographs.
After graduating as valedictorian in his high school class, Still enrolled in Wilberforce University in 1911 in the Bachelor of Science degree program. Although his grades were above average, Still spent much of his time playing and directing the band, performing with the Wilberforce string quartet, and perusing Carl Fischer catalogues. Leaving Wilberforce before graduation, William Grant Still received a broad musical education that included arranging for Paul Whiteman and Artie Shaw, performing in the bands of W.C. Handy and the "Shuffle Along" band of Eubie Blake, and working in the Pace and Handy Music Publishing Company, as well as studying composition at Oberlin College, at the New England Conservatory with George Whitefield Chadwick, and with Edgar Varese.
Known as the "Dean of Afro-American Composers" during the latter part of his career, Still led a full and productive life as arranger, conductor, lecturer, writer, and composer. It is as composer, however, that he is remembered best. Still's works include nine operas, five symphonies, four ballets, and numerous compositions for voice, keyboard, chamber ensembles, and even two pieces for accordion.
During the 1930s and 1940s Still's compositions were performed by major orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony, the Boston Symphony, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Berlin Philharmonic, the London Symphony, and the Tokyo Philharmonic. His Afro-American Symphony was performed in 1931 by the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. It was the first symphony by an African-American to be played by a leading orchestra. Other "firsts" for William Grant Still were the following: he was the first African-American to conduct a major orchestra in the United States (Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1936 at the Hollywood Bowl), the first to have a full-length opera performed by a major company (Troubled Island in 1949 by the New York City Opera at City Center), the first to conduct a major orchestra in the Deep South (New Orleans Philharmonic in 1955), and one of the first to write for radio and film.
Among his many honors and awards are a Harmon Award (1927), two Guggenheim fellowships (1934, 1935), two Rosenwald fellowships (1939, 1940), a Freedom Foundation Award (1953), an Honorary Master of Music from Wilberforce University (1936), an Honorary Doctor of Music from Howard University (1941), an Honorary Doctor of Music from Oberlin College (1947), an Honorary Doctor of Letters from Bates College (1954), an Honorary Doctor of Law from the University of Arkansas (1971), an Honorary Doctor of Law from Pepperdine University (1973), and an Honorary Doctor of Law from the University of Southern California (1975). William Grant Still died on December 3, 1978, in Los Angeles.
Verna Arvey was born in Los Angeles, California, on February 16, 1910. Her parents, both Russian Jewish emigrants, were David Arvey and Bessie Tark. Arvey graduated from Manual Arts High School where she studied journalism and music. During the 1920s, she gave lecture-recitals, accompanied dancers, and was involved in some avant-garde multi-media "happenings." She performed in both North and South America, and her programs always included the compositions of Latin American composers as well as noted black composers, such as R. Nathaniel Dett, Harry Burleigh, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, and William Grant Still.
Verna Arvey's relationship with Still began in 1934 when he arrived in Los Angeles under the auspices of a Guggenheim award. Arvey was a pianist and journalist at the time. Their professional collaboration grew to personal devotion and they married in 1939. Among her many musical collaborations with Still are A Bayou Legend, Costaso, Minette Fontaine, Song For The Lonely, We Sang Our Songs, The Pillar, Mota, and revisions for Troubled Island, an opera originally written by Langston Hughes and Still. Arvey is also the author of Choreographic Music (E.P. Dutton, 1941) and In One Lifetime (University of Arkansas Press, 1984), which is her personal story of Still. Verna Arvey died in Los Angeles in 1987.
89.5 Linear Feet (131 boxes; 101 volumes, and 2 items)
Arrangement of the Papers
Materials are arranged and described in five groups:
- Group 1. William Grant Still and Verna Arvey Biographical Materials, 1894-1991. Boxes 1-68.
- Group 1. Series 1. Personal and professional correspondence, 1925-1985. Boxes 1-51.
- Group 1. Series 2. Personal papers, 1894-1985. Boxes 52-53.
- Group 1. Series 3. Diaries, dreambooks, predictions, and address book, 1928-1982. Boxes 54-59.
- Group 1. Series 3. Subseries 1. Diaries of William Grant Still, 1930-1959. Boxes 54-56.
- Group 1. Series 3. Subseries 2. Diaries of Verna Arvey, 1928-1982. Box 56.
- Group 1. Series 3. Subseries 3. Dreambooks of William Grant Still and Verna Arvey, 1939-1979. Box 57.
- Group 1. Series 3. Subseries 4. Predictions, 1936-1981. Box 58.
- Group 1. Series 3. Subseries 5. Address book. Box 59.
- Group 1. Series 4. Scrapbooks, 1921-2002. Volumes 1-101/Microfilm Reels 1-15.
- Group 1. Series 4. Subseries 1. Scrapbooks of William Grant Still, 1921-1981. Volumes 1-48.
- Group 1. Series 4. Subseries 2. Scrapbooks of Verna Arvey, 1922-1981. Volumes 49-54.
- Group 1. Series 4. Subseries 3. Other scrapbooks, 1930s-1972. Volumes 55-84.
- Group 1. Series 4. Subseries 4. Scrapbooks of Judith Still's Childhood and William Grant Still Music, 1982-2002. Volumes 85-101.
- Group 1. Series 5. Tax receipts and royalty agreements, 1924-1983. Boxes 60-65.
- Group 1. Series 5. Subseries 1. Tax receipts, 1934-1978. Boxes 60-64.
- Group 1. Series 5. Subseries 2. Royalty and other agreements, 1924-1983. Box 65.
- Group 1. Series 6. Newspaper and magazine articles, 1937-1991. Boxes 66-68.
- Group 1. Series 6. Subseries 1. General newspaper and magazine articles, 1937-1991. Box 66.
- Group 1. Series 6. Subseries 2. Political newspaper and magazine articles, 1964-1980. Boxes 67-68.
- Group 2. William Grant Still and Verna Arvey Writing and Research Files, 1899-1986. Boxes 69-88.
- Group 2. Series 1. Literary manuscripts by William Grant Still, Verna Arvey, Judith Anne Still Headlee, and others, 1926-1983. Boxes 69-75.
- Group 2. Series 1. Subseries 1. Manuscripts of articles and book by William Grant Still, 1926-1972. Box 69.
- Group 2. Series 1. Subseries 2. Manuscripts of speeches and radio talks by William Grant Still, 1938-1973. Boxes 70-71.
- Group 2. Series 1. Subseries 3. Manuscripts of articles, books, short stories, and translations by Verna Arvey, 1953-1973. Boxes 72-74.
- Group 2. Series 1. Subseries 4. Manuscripts of speeches and radio talks by Verna Arvey, 1939-1975. Box 74.
- Group 2. Series 1. Subseries 5. Manuscripts of Judith Anne Still Headlee, 1953-1957. Box 74.
- Group 2. Series 1. Subseries 6. Manuscripts of others, 1937-1983. Box 75.
- Group 2. Series 2. Published articles by William Grant Still, Verna Arvey, and Judith Anne Still Headlee, 1929-1986. Boxes 76-82.
- Group 2. Series 2. Subseries 1. Published articles by William Grant Still, 1932-1972. Box 76.
- Group 2. Series 2. Subseries 2. Published articles by Verna Arvey, 1929-1969. Boxes 77-81.
- Group 2. Series 2. Subseries 3. Published articles by Judith Anne Still Headlee, 1970-1985. Box 81.
- Group 2. Series 2. Subseries 4. Published articles and references to William Grant Still and Verna Arvey, 1933-1986. Box 82.
- Group 2. Series 3. Music research files, 1899-1986. Boxes 83-87.
- Group 2. Series 3. Subseries 1. Compositions by William Grant Still, n.d. Box 83.
- Group 2. Series 3. Subseries 2. Biographical, performance programs, and other materials pertaining to William Grant Still and/or Verna Arvey, 1921-1984. Box 84.
- Group 2. Series 3. Subseries 3. General music research files, 1936-1981. Boxes 85-86.
- Group 2. Series 3. Subseries 4. Books, pamphlets, and other sources used as musical inspiration, 1923-1964. Box 87.
- Group 2. Series 4. General research files, 1899-1978. Box 88.
- Group 3. William Grant Still and Verna Arvey Musical Scores and Audio Tapes, 1880-1973. Boxes 89-125.
- Group 3. Series 1. Musical scores and index, 1927-1972. Boxes 89-100.
- Group 3. Series 1. Subseries 1. Scores for keyboard, including accordion, organ, and piano, 1936-1963. Box 89.
- Group 3. Series 1. Subseries 2. Scores for voice or voices with piano, 1928-1971. Boxes 89-90.
- Group 3. Series 1. Subseries 3. Scores for chamber music, 1941-1968. Box 91 and OV-Box 2.
- Group 3. Series 1. Subseries 4. Scores for band, 1945, 1956. Box 92.
- Group 3. Series 1. Subseries 5. Scores for orchestra with soloists and/or chorus, 1935-1967. Boxes 92-93.
- Group 3. Series 1. Subseries 6. Scores for orchestra, 1928-1970. Boxes 93-95 and OV-Box 2.
- Group 3. Series 1. Subseries 7. Scores for the stage, 1927-1965. Boxes 96-99.
- Group 3. Series 1. Subseries 8. Scores of arrangements, orchestrations, and miscellaneous drafts, n.d. Box 100.
- Group 3. Series 1. Subseries 9. Musical Scores Index.
- Group 3. Series 2. Musical scores of others, 1880-1973. Boxes 101-104.
- Group 3. Series 3. Audio tapes. Boxes 105-125.
- Group 4. Photographs, Negatives, Halftone Mats, Postcards, Portraits, and Drawing, 1890-1980. Box 126.
- Group 4. Series 1. Family and the early years of William Grant Still, 1890-1918. Photographs 1-12.
- Group 4. Series 2. Family and the early years of Verna Arvey, 1904-1945. Photographs 13-24.
- Group 4. Series 3. William Grant Still, Verna Arvey, and their family, 1935-1980. Photographs 25-62.
- Group 4. Series 4. Career and professional photographs of William Grant Still and Verna Arvey, 1928-1975. Photographs 63-103.
- Group 4. Series 5. Toys made by William Grant Still for his children, Duncan and Judith Still, 1940s. Photographs 104-131.
- Group 4. Series 6. Other, n.d. Photographs 132-137.
- Group 4. Series 7. Negatives of photographs in Group IV, halftone mats, postcards, portraits, and drawing.
- Group 5. Artifacts
William Grant Still and Verna Arvey of Los Angeles, California, bequeathed their papers to Special Collections on July 3, 1973.
Arrangement and description of the papers was undertaken on July 1, 1991, and financed in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Processed by Norma Ortiz-Karp, June 1992. Special Collections Division, University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville, Arkansas. Scrapbooks volumes 85-101 processed by Todd E. Lewis and Jim Kelton, July 2006. Group 5 was added by Katrina Windon in June 2022 to include two objects received as part of the original donation but not initially included in the collection finding aid.
- African American composers
- African American women composers
- Blake, Eubie, 1887-1983
- Chapin, Katherine Garrison, 1890-1977
- Communism -- United States
- Composers -- Arkansas
- Crosby, Bing, 1903-1977 (Correspondent)
- Cullen, Countee, 1903-1946 (Correspondent)
- Eisenhower, Dwight D. (Dwight David), 1890-1969 (Correspondent)
- Handy, W. C. (William Christopher), 1873-1958 (Correspondent)
- Hughes, Langston, 1902-1967 (Correspondent)
- Locke, Alain, 1885-1954 (Correspondent)
- Music -- Arkansas
- Price, Florence, 1887-1953 (Correspondent)
- William Grant Still and Verna Arvey Papers
- Norma Ortiz-Karp
- June 1992
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Language of description note
- Finding aid is written in English.