Sound of Charlotte Blog
William Grant Still: The Dean of African American ComposersFebruary 1, 2023
William Grant Still (1895-1978), often called The Dean of African American Composers, was an American composer, arranger, conductor, and pioneer of early 20th-century classical music. He was born in Mississippi and grew up in Little Rock Arkansas where he learned to play the violin and piano. Despite facing significant racial barriers and prejudice, Still went on to become one of the most influential figures in classical music, paving the way for future generations of African American musicians and inspiring countless composers with his unique style.
Still was the first African American conductor to lead a major American orchestra, and the first to have an opera produced by the New York City Opera. Throughout his career, Still composed more than 150 works, including five operas, eight ballets, six symphonies, and numerous other works for solo instruments, choral ensembles, and small and large orchestral groups.
Still's music was born of the Harlem Renaissance and his sound is characterized by its fusion of classical, blues, and spiritual elements, reflecting his experiences as a black man in early 20th-century America. He drew inspiration from a wide range of musical styles, including European classical music, African American spirituals, and jazz, creating a unique musical voice that was ahead of its time. His compositions feature intricate rhythms, lyrical melodies, and rich harmonies, and he often used his music to address political and social issues of the day.
Today, William Grant Still continues to inspire musicians and audiences alike. His music has been performed by major symphony orchestras, opera companies, and ballet companies around the world, and his legacy continues to influence contemporary classical music.
Explore five of the best pieces of music by William Grant Still on Classic fm.
Composer Spotlight: Daniel Bernard RoumainFebruary 1, 2023
Daniel Bernard Roumain is a Haitian-American composer, violinist, educator, and activist. He is a board member for the League of American Orchestras, a voting member for the Recording Academy GRAMMY awards, and a tenured Associate and Institute Professor at Arizona State University.
Known for his signature violin techniques that fuse electronic and African American music influences, Roumain's work has a distinct genre-bending sound. Described "as omnivorous as a contemporary artist gets" by The New York Times, Roumain has collaborated with the likes of J'Nai Bridges, Lady Gaga, Philip Glass, Bill T. Jones, Marin Alsop, and Anna Deavere Smith.
A prolific composer of solo, chamber, orchestral, operatic, film, theater, and dance scores, Roumain's works have premiered at Carnegie Hall, New World Symphony, Opera Philadelphia, New Jersey Symphony, and more. In the film industry, he has composed for both feature and short films, including the acclaimed Sundance film Ailey; Requiem for the Living, In Color; and Color of Reality. Roumain also clinched an Emmy for Outstanding Musical Composition for his collaborations with ESPN.
In September 2010, the New World Symphony premiered Dancers, Dreamers, and Presidents -- an orchestral tone poem inspired by Ellen DeGeneres and then-senator Barack Obama dancing on The Ellen Show in 2007.
Activism is an important aspect of Roumain's work as a performer and composer. "As an artist-entrepreneur, I am committed to creating projects that speak to social injustice," Roumain says. This theme has been evident in collaborations with symphony orchestras across the country.
On October 24, 2019, Roumain collaborated with The Flynn and Vermont Symphony Orchestra to perform for 24 hours in front of City Hall in Burlington in protest of discriminatory immigration laws in the U.S., and in November 2020, the New Jersey Symphony presented the world premiere of Roumain's i am a white person who _____ Black people. He composed this work in a fraught political climate, following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the subsequent protests and calls for change across the country.
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