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Career Achievements

Historical and Musical Firsts of American Master Composer William Grant Still

William Grant Still was the first person of Color:

  • To have a major work performed by a major American symphony orchestra.
  • To conduct a major American symphony orchestra.
  • To write the theme music for a World’s Fair.
  • To conduct a symphony orchestra in the Deep South.
  • To conduct on national radio.
  • To arrange for a national radio program (the first popular national radio program), the “Deep River Hour.”
  • To have an opera done by a major American company.
  • To have an opera televised.
  • To write for the United Nations.

William Grant Still was the first person of Color in the CLASSICAL field of music:

  • To have his documentary televised nationally.
  • To have a sold-out recording.
  • To be invited to the White House.

William Grant Still was the first person of ANY Color:

  • To crossover from jazz and blues to the concert hall with Negro idioms. (Gershwin was not the first; he copied Still.)
  • To introduce many jazz and band instruments to the concert hall (like the vibraphone, the banjo, tom-toms, Harmon and fibre mutes, and many other instruments not traditionally part of a symphony orchestra).
  • To write a ballet with voices as integral parts of the plot. (Aaron Copland falsely claimed to have been the first.)
  • To write a ballet with a serious African subject.
  • To change American music by introducing non-symphonic techniques of composition and Negroid sounds. (After Still, composers in the media and concert hall copied his techniques.)
  • To actively promote changes to American opera by eliminating the overture, weaving the recitative into the fabric of the whole and making the set-piece ballet part of the plot. (Before Still, most operas were European in tradition and were characterized by a stilted way of impelling the action.)
  • To invent fingernail pizzicato, and other performance techniques.

William Grant Still’s “Afro-American Symphony” is the most performed, and most-beloved, American symphony in history