Composer Still honored by Hall of Fame

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 31, 2003

WOODVILLE &045; A Woodville native and African-American composer whose work transcended the racial barriers of the early twentieth century has been posthumously inducted into the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame.

William Grant Still, who died in 1978 at age 83, was awarded the honor during a ceremony Oct. 3 at the Pine Bluff, Ark., Convention Center.

Still was born May 11, 1895, the only child of Connie &uot;Frambo&uot; Still and William Grant Still, Sr.

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His father, a bandmaster and school teacher in Woodville, died before his first birthday.

His mother then relocated to Little Rock, Ark.

Still’s daughter, Judith Anne Still of Flagstaff, Ariz., said she was delighted with the recent honor.

&uot;My father loved the South, and he especially enjoyed the gentility and love for learning that he experienced in Little Rock,&uot; she said.

Still began composing at age 16 and later studied music at Oberlin College in Ohio. He worked in New York as an arranger for W.C. Handy before serving in the U.S. Navy during World War I.

Afterward, he worked with Duke Ellington and for WOR Radio.

Best known for such major operas as &uot;Troubled Island&uot; and &uot;A Bayou Legend,&uot; Still was inducted into the Mississippi Music Hall of Fame in 1999. He also composed ballets and works for orchestra.

Still was the first black conductor to lead a major American orchestra, appearing with the Rochester Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl in 1936.

&uot;Troubled Island&uot; was the first opera by a black composer to be performed by a major opera company, premiering in New York in 1949.

&uot;A Bayou Legend&uot; was produced for PBS in 1981, and Duke University devotes an online exhibit to Still through its Special Collections Library.

In Woodville, officials plan to honor Still’s work with an exhibit in the African American Cultural Museum at the former Branch Banking House.

Restoration of the building is currently underway through a grant from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.