William Grant Still Letters
Scope and Content Note
Letters and notes, largely of a personal nature, to Clara B[ernice] Kennan and Mary D[engler] Hudgins pertaining primarily to educational television programs related to the music of WGS and articles written by CBK and MDH about the composer, donation of the Still Papers to the University of Arkansas Library, and WGS's honorary degree from the University in the spring of 1971. Correspondence also refers to Arkansans John [Rowland] Cowell, Margaret Bean Jasper, [John] [Little] McClellan, Sid[ney] [Sanders] McMath, and Florence [Beatrice] [Smith] Price
- Still, William Grant, 1895-1978 (Person)
Language of Materials
Materials are in English.
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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.
(Biographical note taken from MC 1125: William Grant Still and Verna Arvey Papers.)
0.25 Linear Feet (54 items)
Arrangement of the Papers
Correspondence is arranged chronologically
Gift of Mary Dengler Hudgins, of Hot Springs, Arkansas in October 1973
Processed by Samuel Sizer
- William Grant Still Letters
- Samuel Sizer
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Language of description note
- Finding aid is written in English.