William Grant Still
Photo courtesy Carl Fischer Music
The family of the late African-American composer William Grant Still is once again offering free recordings of his works to radio stations around the world. An ongoing project, the $68,000 needed to fund the purchase of CDs for this year’s campaign was raised from sheet music sales and performances of Still’s music that have taken place over the last year.
“The pieces that are played in our concerts halls and that are broadcast on the airwaves are often selected from a narrow field, while non-European and non-folk elements are ignored,” explains his daughter, Judith Anne Still, who works with Still’s three other children and three grandchildren on the CD project. “We want the public to discover the beauty and value of music that is American, multicultural, and modern.”
Ms. Still feels that the airwaves are the best way to advocate for her father’s music. “I think that William Grant Still gets a better response than other American composers from radio airplay. So that’s the way we’ve decided to go.” The stations that have participated in the project, she says, have found that “they get several calls whenever they play some special Still like the Afro-American Symphony. [Listeners] will call up and ask where to get the recording.” In addition, she has found that radio airplay can lead to live performances of the works. Oftentimes, she says, “a conductor will hear a piece on the radio and start calling around to see where he can get it.”
By all indications, the work of the Still family is making an impact. In the year following her father’s death in 1978, Still says there were only 15 performances of his works, though he wrote nearly 200 compositions. This year there have been more than 14,000.
“People are discovering his music. I’m not sure it’s because we’re getting more tolerant racially, because I’m not sure we are, but my father’s music was not available at all on widely distributed recordings when he died.” The family’s work is changing that. They made the first all-Still recording in 1980, and labels such as Koch, Chandos, and Newport Classic followed. “Somebody noticed that we had been successful with the first recording and other companies came forward. Now we have over fifty [recordings] and there’s more stuff coming out.”
Still speaks with satisfaction about the headway the CD project has made in disseminating the music to the public, but she has no plans to slow down now. The project does not have nonprofit status and so does not solicit outside donations. Profits from the sale and performance of Still’s music, in addition to funds contributed or borrowed by the family, she says, all go towards the purchase of CDs for distribution.