Learning to Listen: William Grant Still

by Emily Reese, Minnesota Public Radio
February 17, 2014
William Grant Still (Carl Van Vechten) William Grant Still embraces his granddaughter, Celeste Headlee. (courtesy Celeste Headlee) Celeste Headlee and her grandfather, William Grant Still, on a visit to Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif. (courtesy Celeste Headlee) William Grant Still and his grandchildren. (courtesy Celeste Headlee)

St. Paul, Minn. — William Grant Still was one of the most prolific American composers around in the 20th century.

He was driven to write music that everyone could connect to, regardless of their color.

Still was known as the Dean of African American Composers, but his music always transcended race.

He was the first African-American to have a symphony (his First) played by a major American orchestra (Howard Hanson conducted the Rochester Philharmonic). Still conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1936, the first African-American to direct a major U.S. orchestra.

His opera, Troubled Island, became the first opera by an African-American performed by a major U.S. opera company (the New York City Opera, 1949).

In fact, that opera had 22 curtain calls, but closed after it was panned by critics.

Still's granddaughter, Celeste Headlee, spoke to me about his music and his legacy on today's Learning to Listen.

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