William Grant Still

Essay by pshs2000University, Bachelor'sA+, April 2004

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William Grant Still was born May 11, 1895 in Woodville, Mississippi to Carrie Lena Still and William Grant Still. Still's father died when he was only a few months old, so the family moved to Little Rock, Arkansas. His mother remarried a few years later to Charles B. Shepperson. Both his mother and stepfather were interested in music and encouraged their children as well. Still began his musical education taking violin lessons and listening to opera recordings bought by his stepfather. The musical influence of his childhood greatly affected his musical path to success during the mid-1900s.

Still attended Wilberforce University in 1911 as a pre-medical student. Students usually participated in musical activities for "cultural and entertainment value" (Gibson). It was highly unusual for them to pursue music as a career, especially as African-Americans. Due to racism, African Americans were given limited performance opportunities. Still's mother did not want him to pursue a musical career.

Still became more involved in music at Wilberforce, he decided to pursue a career in music. As an adult, he taught himself to play the clarinet, saxophone, string bass, viola, cello, and oboe (Gibson). Although, he did not "learn to play all of these well enough to be able to perform on them" he knew of their capabilities; this knowledge would be very useful as he began to write instrumental music (Gibson).

In 1918, Still joined the United States Navy and served in World War I (Boyd). After his discharge from the Navy, he worked for W. C. Handy and composed his first band arrangements, St. Louis Blues and Beale Street Blues (Boyd). St. Louis Blues was written to be played by a military band.

In 1931, his most popular work was published, Afro-American Symphony. Through this work Still "stated the significance and meaning...