William Grant Still tribute to help bring music to children

Published 12:37 am Wednesday, November 11, 2009

NATCHEZ — When composer William Grant Still died in 1978 he left one bit of business unfinished.

Next week Still’s daughter, Judith Anne, will pick up the baton and take the first step to carrying out her father’s dream.

“One of his last wishes was to do something for the state of Mississippi and the children,” Judith Anne Still said. “He wanted to put music in the schools, and we are establishing a foundation to do so.”

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The first event sponsored by the William Grant Still Music foundation will be a tribute conference titled “Music and the Arts: Still our Only Future.” The conference will be in Natchez Nov. 18-22, and will feature the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra.

The foundation is awaiting government approval to become a non-profit organization. Once that comes, monies raised through events like next week’s conference will be used to purchase sheet music and instruments for Mississippi schools.

William Grant Still was the first black man to have a symphony performed by a major symphony orchestra.

In 1936 he directed the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, and in 1955 he directed the all-white New Orleans Philharmonic at Southern University.

Later in life he wrote music for television shows “Perry Mason,” “Gunsmoke” and “Have Gun Will Travel.”

Still was born in Woodville, but moved out of the state at only a few months old.

Judith Still said she chose Natchez for the first conference because of its proximity to Woodville and because of the Convention Center.

She hopes to have future conferences around the state.

The conference will start at 11 a.m. Wednesday in Woodville with a Mississippi Blues Trail dedication on Main Street. That night, conference attendees are encouraged to attend the “Mississippi Medicine Show” at Natchez Little Theatre at 8 p.m.

The William Grant Still festivities begin in full at 9:30 a.m. Thursday morning.

From 9:30 to 10:30, from 11 to noon and from 1:30 to 4 p.m. presenters will entertain at the Natchez Convention Center.

Presenters include state and national musicians performing their own work, Still’s and that of other black composers.

The Mississippi Symphony Orchestra will perform Still’s work starting at 8 p.m. at the City Auditorium. Tickets for this event only are $10 in advance through Natchez Pilgrimage Tours or $12 at the door.

Sessions continue Friday and Saturday and the weekend concludes Sunday with a farewell brunch at High Cotton Catering at 9:30 a.m.

A weekend pass — which includes admission to everything — is $225 for local residents and can be purchased at the door of the Natchez Convention Center.

Single day registration is as follows: $95 for Thursday, $125 for Friday and $100 for Saturday.

A 6 p.m. Saturday banquet at the Eola Hotel is $48.

For more information contact Judith Still at wgsmusic@bigplanet.com or at 928-526-9355.