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William Grant Still

William Grant Still (May 11,1895-December 3,1978) was a ground-breaking African-American classical composer. He was the first African-American to conduct a major American Orchestra and the first to have one of his symphonies performed by a major American Orchestra.

William Grant Still was born in Woodville, Mississippi. His father died when he was 3 months old and he was raised in Little Rock, Arkansas. Still served in the United States Navy during World War I.

He attended Wilberforce College and Oberlin College seeking a medical degree. He became interested in music and left for New York City where he played and arranged music with W.C. Handy and worked for Handy's publishing company. Still was associated with the Harlem Renaissance movement and was active in the jazz and popular music scenes. Still later studied under avant-garde composer Edgard Varese and George Whitfield Chadwick. Still was married in 1939 to Verna Arvey, a Russian-Jewish musician.

He initially composed in the modernist style but later merged his African-American heritage with traditional European classical forms to form a unique style. In 1931 his Afro-American Symphony was performed by the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, the first African-American composer to receive such attention. In 1936 Still conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and became the first African-American to conduct a major American Orchestra. In 1949 his opera Troubled Island was performed by the New York City Opera and became the first opera by an African-American to be performed by a major company. In 1955 he conducted the New Orleans Philharmonic Orchestra and became the first African-American to conduct a major orchestra in the Deep South. Still's works were also performed by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, the London Symphony Orchestra, the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra, and the BBC Orchestra. He was the first African-American to have an opera performed on national television.

Still received two Guggenheim Fellowships, honorary doctorates from Oberlin College, Wilberforce College, Howard University, Bates College, and the University of Arkansas. Still is known as the "Dean of Afro-American Composers".

William Grant Still died of heart failure in Los Angeles, California.

William Grant Still.