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William Grant Still

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William Grant Still


William Grant Still (11 May 1895, Woodville, Miss. - 9 December 1978, Los Angeles, Calif.) was an American composer.

Long known as the "Dean of American Negro Composers," as well as one of America's foremost composers, Still was an African-American classical composer who wrote more than 150 compositions. His parents were of Negro, Indian, Spanish, Irish and Scotch bloods. When William was only a few months old, his father died and his mother took him to Little Rock, Arkansas, where she taught English in the high school. There his musical education began--with violin lessons from a private teacher, and with later inspiration from the Red Seal operatic recordings bought for him by his stepfather.

He then attended Wilberforce University, founded as an African-American school, in Ohio. He conducted the university band, learned to play various instruments and started to compose and to do orchestrations. He also studied with Friedrich Lehmann at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music on scholarship. He later studied with George Chadwick at the New England Conservatory again on scholarship, and then with the ultra-modern composer, Edgard Varese. Still initially composed in the modernist style but later merged musical aspects of his African-American heritage with traditional European classical forms to form a unique style.

In the Twenties, Still made his first appearances as a serious composer in New York, and began a valued friendship with Dr. Howard Hanson of Rochester. Extended Guggenheim and Rosenwald Fellowships were given to him, as well as important commissions from the Columbia Broadcasting System, the New York Worlds Fair 1939-40, Paul Whiteman, the League of Composers, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Southern Conference Educational Fund and the American Accordionists Association. In 1944, he won the Jubilee prize of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra for the best Overture to celebrate its Jubilee season, with a work called Festive Overture. In 1953, a Freedoms Foundation Award came to him for his To You, America! which honored West Points Sesquicentennial Celebration. 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.

After moving to Los Angeles in the early 1930's, citations from numerous organizations, local and elsewhere in the United States, came to the composer. Along with them came honorary degrees like the following: Master of Music from Wilberforce in 1936; Doctor of Music from Howard University in 1941; Doctor of Music from Oberlin College in 1947; Doctor of Letters from Bates College in 1954; Doctor of Laws from the University of Arkansas in 1971; Doctor of Fine Arts from Pepperdine University in 1973; Doctor of Music from the New England Conservatory of Music, the Peabody Conservatory and the University of Southern California.

Works for Winds


  • Carson, William S. "Sugarland." In Teaching Music through Performance in Band. Volume 9, edit. & comp. by Richard Miles, 416-424. Chicago: GIA Publications, 2013.
  • The Horizon Leans Forward…, compiled and edited by Erik Kar Jun Leung, GIA Publications, 2021, p. 486-487.
  • William Grant Still website