Quote of the Day: William Grant Still’s Comment on His Second Symphony

 

For those who are not familiar with him, William Grant Still was a 20th century American composer who happened to be Black. His first symphony was entitled “Afro-American Symphony,” and I played it more than once while in the Everett (Washington) Symphony under our Black conductor, Paul-Elliott Cobbs. Sometime in the 1990s, the orchestra gifted him with the composer’s score of the symphony. We received standing ovations in 2006, when we played the “Afro-American Symphony” in Carnegie Hall.

Still’s second symphony was composed in 1936-37, and it bears his subtitle “Song of a New Race.” The composer saw his G minor second symphony as representing

… the American colored man of today, in so many instances a totally new individual produced through the fusion of White, Indian, and Negro bloods.

I found this quote on the website of the American Symphony Orchestra, in program notes written by Catherine Parsons Smith. My guess is that the composer’s subtitle and comments would not be allowed in polite society today. In a society that has rejected the ideas of Martin Luther King, Jr., Still might be an outcast. But his music speaks volumes for him and deserves a wider audience.

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  1. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    William Grant Still was very well known, just before and during WWII. His son, W.B. Still, was an electronics expert who built and operated his own television station…in 1945!  Here’s a page of information about him and his work. Scroll down and you’ll see an article about him that ran in The New York Times, Nov. 25, 1945. 

    I’ve always wondered why W.B. Still was forgotten. He sounds like the real life model for the character that Greg Morris played on Mission: Impossible twenty-plus years later. 

    • #1
  2. Gossamer Cat Coolidge
    Gossamer Cat
    @GossamerCat

    The way I read the title of this post was that William Grant was still working on his second symphony!  I was delighted to find out that in fact his name was William Grant Still and that he had finished his  second  symphony.   I will listen to it.  Interesting quote too. 

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  3. RushBabe49 Thatcher
    RushBabe49
    @RushBabe49

    Gossamer Cat (View Comment):

    The way I read the title of this post was that William Grant was still working on his second symphony! I was delighted to find out that in fact his name was William Grant Still and that he had finished his second symphony. I will listen to it. Interesting quote too.

    I updated the title, based on your interpretation.  It should be easier to understand now.

    • #3
  4. Gossamer Cat Coolidge
    Gossamer Cat
    @GossamerCat

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    William Grant Still was very well known, just before and during WWII. His son, W.B. Still, was an electronics expert who built and operated his own television station…in 1945! Here’s a page of information about him and his work. Scroll down and you’ll see an article about him that ran in The New York Times, Nov. 25, 1945.

    I’ve always wondered why W.B. Still was forgotten. He sounds like the real life model for the character that Greg Morris played on Mission: Impossible twenty-plus years later.

    That was really interesting!  

    • #4
  5. Steven Seward Member
    Steven Seward
    @StevenSeward

    Hey RushBabe, I didn’t know you played a musical instrument.  In a symphony orchestra no less!  You must be good.  what do you play?

    • #5
  6. Rodin Member
    Rodin
    @Rodin

    Pray we get to the point where the quote applies to everyone. For it is true that in America we freely mate with those we love and offspring have inheritance from multiple sources that in ages past were quite distinct.

    • #6
  7. thelonious Member
    thelonious
    @thelonious

    I’m ashamed to admit I didn’t know who this guy was. Just listened to some of his work. Good stuff and an interesting bio. Thanks, Babe.

    • #7
  8. WillowSpring Member
    WillowSpring
    @WillowSpring

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    William Grant Still was very well known, just before and during WWII. His son, W.B. Still, was an electronics expert who built and operated his own television station…in 1945! Here’s a page of information about him and his work. Scroll down and you’ll see an article about him that ran in The New York Times, Nov. 25, 1945.

    I’ve always wondered why W.B. Still was forgotten. He sounds like the real life model for the character that Greg Morris played on Mission: Impossible twenty-plus years later.

    I don’t know enough about Jamaica Ave and 128th Avenue to know if somehow, race is implied by the address of his store/studio, but I was amazed that the entire article never referred to his race.  These days, it seems that incidental fact would be given high priority.

    How we have fallen since 1945!

     

    • #8