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Spotlight on Classical Organ Music Composed by those of African Descent (Part 3 of 4)

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  • Spotlight on Classical Organ Music Composed by those of African Descent (Part 3 of 4)

    Dear People,

    This week's composer, William Grant Still (1897-1978), brings us back across the pond and to my native Dixie.

    I went back and forth this week on which recording of this week's piece to offer. One was only an excerpt, but had tons of good information on the composer. The one that I went with is a complete rendering of the piece, but is not as high quality of a recording as the other. For the sake of completeness, I'll offer the latter for listening and the former as "additional information."


    Facts about William Grant Still
    1. Willam Grant Still's "claim to fame" is his Afro-American Symphony, the first major orchestral work composed by an African-American to be performed by a major orchestra. It's especially noted for its incorporation of contemporary native musical elements, such as 12-bar blues form in the first movement.
    2. On the subject of jazz and blues: in the early days of Still's musical career, he worked as arranger for Paul Whiteman and W.C. Handy. The latter may be familiar to you as the man who is credited with being "the father of the blues."
    3. Still was an especially fecund composer, writing in excess of 150 works. The breadth, writing, and erudite nature of his pieces earned him the moniker "the Dean of African-American composers".
    4. Educationally, Still occupies an unusual space: he studied both with the academic, old guard composer George W. Chadwick at the New England Conservatory and with the avant-garde Edgar Varese.
    5. Still did not originally set out to be a composer. He began his higher education at Wilberforce College intending to become a doctor (at his mother's behest), but shifted to music at Oberlin Conservatory (and later, NEC).
    The music

    Still's Reverie was composed for an AGO prelude book issued in the 1960s. It appears to me that it might be the only work he composed especially for the organ (unless you're willing to count the accordion), but that there are several arrangements of other works.

    For more information...

    Music and History
    Cherry Rhodes plays William Grant Still - Reverie
    Willam Grant Still facts