William Grant Still: Song of a New Race for MLK Day

William Grant Still(Photo: Wikipedia)
William Grant Still(Photo: Wikipedia)

For this Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we are featuring William Grant Still’s Symphony No.2 in G minor, Song of a New Race on Symphony @ 7.  It dates from 1937, seven years after his , which won him widespread recognition.

The composer said of his second symphony, “the Afro-American Symphony represented the Negro of days not far removed from the Civil War.  The Symphony in G minor represents the American colored man of today, in so many instances a totally new individual….”

Still, who has been called “the dean” of African-American composers, was born in Mississippi in 1895, grew up in Little Rock Arkansas, and lived in Ohio for a time. He graduated from Wilberforce University, one of Ohio’s two historically black colleges, and was awarded a scholarship at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. He eventually moved to Los Angeles, California, where Still had a distinguished career in music, and died in 1978.

Also on this evening’s program, we have New Morning for the World (“Daybreak of Freedom”), by Joseph Schwantner.  It is a work for narrator and orchestra in the manner of Aaron Copland’s Lincoln Portrait and uses the words of Dr. King drawn from various speeches and writings.  It was first performed 30 years ago at the Kennedy Center in Washington D. C. on Dr. King’s birthday, January 15, 1983.

We’ll conclude with an African-American artist who has an Ohio connection, soprano Kathleen Battle, from Portsmouth, singing a traditional spiritual with Jessye Norman.

I hope you can join me this evening on Classical 101 for this hour of music honoring Martin Luther King Jr. Here’s a sample from the Still’s second symphony:

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