Still, William Grant – “Works By William Grant Still” – [New World Records (2)]
William Grant Still was a 20th Century classical composer, creating pieces often in the neo-romantic and neo-impressionism style. Born in Woodville, Mississippi and spending most of his early days in Little Rock, Arkansas, he was musically influenced by his step father’s record collection. Listening to opera as well as learning to play violin honed his interest in classical music. Seeing his fist orchestra perform at Oberlin college settled it: he would compose music. This did not come easy, of course. He played in jazz bands, wrote jazz arrangements for Artie Shaw, and travelled to California in hopes of writing music for films and television. He had minor success with this but it influenced his ideas on orchestrations. Still was the first African American composer to “secure extensive publication and significant performances” of his work. He was considered the patriarch of Black classical music, being the culmination of the Harlem Renaissance. Even though he studied under Edgard Varese, his style went toward a more traditional sound.
The selections on this collection cover many of his diverse projects, from fully orchestrated pieces to simpler tunes composed to poems by Black poets. The Ennanga pieces are his attempt to connect to his African heritage, though at the time he wrote them he did not have access to African music recordings. These pieces became his interpretation. Just like the Florence Price work at our station, this is an important addition to our collection.