William Grant Still, Composer

Afro-American Symphony


Born May 11, 1895 in Woodville, Mississippi 
Died December 3, 1978 in Los Angeles, California




Modern 1920-Present

Famous Works

Afro-American Symphony


William Grant Still was the son of a bandmaster. After William's father died, his mother moved the family to Little Rock, Arkansas. William's mother taught in the local high school and later remarried. William's interest in music was encouraged and he often attended concerts as well as studied the violin. William entered Wilberforce University and joined the String Quartet. As his interest in music grew, he taught himself to play the other instruments in the string family as well as oboe, clarinet, and saxophone. He even arranged music for the college band.

William dropped out of Wilberforce only to continue his musical studies at Oberlin College. Playing oboe in the orchestra for the Sissle and Blake's Broadway hit, "Shuffle Along," he toured throughout the country. He studied composition with Edgard Varese and also with George Chadwick at the New England Conservatory of Music. His Afro-American Symphony, one of his most famous works, incorporated melodies drawn from black folk songs. The success of this symphony established William as a composer. William Grant Still has composed works for orchestra, chamber music, operas, and ballets, as well as songs, piano pieces, and repertoire for band.