William Grant Still
The First Hundred Years
A Chronology of Cultural Connections


William Grant Still born 11 May in Woodville, Mississippi to parents William Grant Still Sr. (1871-1895) and Carrie Fambro Still (1872-1927).

Will Marion Cook (1869-1944) makes his solo debut as a violinist at Carnegie Hall, New York City. Cook later enjoyed a career as a composer of Vaudeville and Broadway musicals.

Gussie Lord Davis (1863-1899), Tin Pan Alley composer, wins prize as second most popular songwriter in the nation in a competition sponsored by the New York World


Organizing of Black Patti's Troubadours.

Poet/lyricist Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906) gains recognition with Lyrics of a Lowly Life[sound clip]


Tap dancer Willie Covan (1897-1989) born. In 1921, Covan performed in the first of the Shuffle Along musicals.


First musicals written and produced by blacks play on Broadway: Robert "Bob" Cole (1868-1911) and Billy Johnson's (c. 1858-1916) A Trip to Coontown and Will Marion Cook and Paul Laurence Dunbar's (1872-1906)Clorindy; or, The Origin of the Cakewalk

Thomas "Blind Tom" Bethune (1849-1908) retires as concert pianist.


"Maple Leaf Rag" by Scott Joplin helps popularize the ragtime style.

"Duke" (Edward Kennedy) Ellington born in Washington, D.C.

First American performance of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor's (1875-1912) Hiawatha's Wedding Feast, Op. 30, at the Brooklyn Baptist Temple.



The brothers J. Rosamond Johnson and James Weldon Johnson write "Lift Every Voice and Sing."[sound clip]


The brothers Johnson sign a contract with Joseph W. Stern and Company, a Broadway music firm.

Third edition of Cabin and Plantation Songs As Sung by the Hampton Students (New York: G. P. Putnam's Songs, The Knickerbocker Press, 166 pp.) published.


Chicago Local 208 incorporates with the American Federation of Musicians, the first black musicians' union to do so. The chapter is still known as Local 10-208.


First black-owned music publishing company, N. Clark Smith and J. Berni Barbour, established.


Jazz organist/composer Thomas Wright ("Fats") Waller born in New York City.


First black symphony orchestra in the north founded: the Philadelphia Concert Orchestra, with E. Gilbert Anderson (1874-1926) as the conductor.


The Shoo-Fly Regiment, a musical comedy by the Johnson brothers and Robert ("Bob") Cole, is produced on Broadway with an all-black cast.


W.E.B. DuBois (1868-1963) founds Horizon: A Journal of the Color Line, dedicated to racial equality.


Appointment of first black bandmasters to the U. S. Army and U. S. Navy.


W. C. Handy, the "Father of the Blues," composes "Mayor Crump Blues" for an election campaign in Tennessee.

Jazz saxophonist Lester ("Prez") Young born in Woodville, Mississippi (the birthplace of William Grant Still).



William Grant Still's second wife, Verna Arvey, is born.

Incorporation of the Clef Club, a music-contracting company, in New York City.

Founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and its publication, The Crisis


William Grant Still begins studies at Wilberforce College in Wilberforce, Ohio; he remains there until 1914.

The first opera by a black composer, Treemonisha, by Scott Joplin, performed.


"Memphis Blues," by W. C. Handy, published.

James Reese Europe and his ensemble of black symphonic musicians perform at Carnegie Hall.


R. Nathaniel Dett (1882-1943) becomes the first black music director of the Hampton Institute.[sound clip]


W. C. Handy's St. Louis Blues published.


William Grant Still marries Grace Bundy.

Publication of Jelly Roll Blues, a jazz arrangement by Ferdinand "Jelly Roll" Morton.


William Grant Still works as an arranger for W. C. Handy during the summer.

Publication of Charles A. Tindley's New Songs of Paradise, the first collection of gospel hymns by a black composer.

Publication of a collection of solo spiritual arrangements, Jubilee Songs of the United States of America, by Henry Thacker Burleigh (1866-1949).


William Grant Still begins studies at Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio; his studies are interrupted by service in the U. S. Navy in 1918; he returns to Oberlin after World War I.

H. T. Burleigh awarded by the NAACP the Spingarn Medal for highest achievement by an American citizen of African descent for the year 1916.

Thelonius Monk born in Rocky Mount, North Carolina.

Nat "King" Cole born in Montgomery, Alabama.

First jazz band recording made by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band.

Scott Joplin dies in New York City.


William Grant Still serves in the U. S. Navy during the year.

Carol Brice, contralto, born in Sedalia, North Carolina.

Pearl Bailey born in Newport News, Virginia.

James Reese Europe's 369th Infantry Band performs in Paris.


William Grant Still rejoins W. C. Handy for a two-year stint.



R. Nathaniel Dett (1882-1943) awarded Bowdoin Prize at Harvard University for an essay, "The Emancipation of Negro Music."

"Race records" initiated in New York City with a recording by Blues singer Mamie Smith.

Charlie Parker born in Kansas City, Kansas.

Scholar Eileen Jackson Southern born in Minneapolis, Minnesota.


William Grant Still leaves the W. C. Handy organization to join Harry Pace's Phonograph Company as arranger and recording manager.

Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle produce the first of the Shuffle Along musicals. William Grant Still plays in the pit orchestra.

Thomas Dorsey (1899- 1993) writes "If I Don't Get There," the first of his gospel songs.

Blues singer/actress Ethel Waters makes her first recording for Harry Pace's Black Swan jazz label.


William Grant Still studies composition privately with George Whitefield Chadwick.

Bert Williams, vaudeville performer, dies while performing in Under the Bamboo Tree in Detroit, Michigan.


William Grant Still begins a period of private study with Edgar Varèse.

Bessie Smith records her first single for Columbia Records: "Down Hearted Blues."

Gertrude "Ma" Rainey makes her first record.


The symphonic poem Darker America completed by William Grant Still.


William Grant Still composes Levee Land

Lillian Evanti (b. Lillian Evans, 1890-1967) makes her debut with the Paris Opera in Lakmé

The first concert consisting solely of Negro spirituals is performed by the bass-baritone Paul Bustill Robeson at the Greenwich Village Theatre in New York.

Louis Armstrong (c. 1898-1971) begins a series of recordings with studio musicians variously known as the Hot Five and Hot Seven which establish his reputation as a jazz artist.


Schomburg Collection of Literature and History established at the New York Public Library; name changed to Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in 1980.

The Eva Jessye Choir becomes a leading choral group and tours throughout the U.S.


Bessie Smith is the highest paid black artist in the world.

Thomas Dorsey (1899-1993) tours the Midwest and South, establishing his reputation as the "Father of Gospel Music."

Composer John Wesley Work (1901-1967) begins his teaching career at Fisk University. He will continue in this position as teacher, conductor, and chairman until 1966.


W. C. Handy's Orchestra and Jubilee Singers appear at Carnegie Hall in New York City.

T. J. Anderson born in Coatesville, Pennsylvania.


"Fats" Waller's Hot Chocolates (featuring the songs "Ain't Misbehavin' " and "Black and Blue") premieres in New York City at the Hudson Theater.



William Grant Still composes the ballet Sahdji


On 29 October, William Grant Still's Afro-American Symphony is performed by the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra under Howard Hanson; this is the first performance of a major symphony by a black composer.[sound clip]

Duke Ellington records "Creole Rhapsody."


"Fats" Waller records "Ain't Misbehavin'."

Publication of Duke Ellington's song, It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing


Margaret Bonds is the first black soloist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra performs Florence Price's Symphony in E Minor.

Francis Hall Johnson's Run Little Chillun, the first folk opera on Broadway by a black composer, is produced.


William Grant Still is awarded a fellowship by the Guggenheim Foundation.

Ella Fitzgerald wins on "Harlem Amateur Hour" and joins Chick Webb's band, the beginning of her career as a jazz singer.

Mahalia Jackson makes her first record.

William Levi Dawson's Negro Folk Symphony performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra.


William Grant Still composes Kaintuck, for piano and orchestra.

Porgy and Bess, by George Gershwin (1898-1937), premieres in New York City at the Alvin Theatre.


Teddy Wilson and Lionel Hampton become the first African-Amercian members of Benny Goodman's band.


William Grant Still composes the ballet Lennox Avenue[sound clip]

The Count Basie Orchestra opens at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem, New York.

Bessie Smith dies near Clarksdale, Mississippi.


Billie Holiday performs with Artie Shaw.

"Sister" Rosetta Tharpe (1921-1973) is the first gospel singer to record with a major record label (Decca Records). In the same year, she appears at the Cotton Club with "Cab" Calloway.

Shirley Caesar born in Durham, North Carolina.


William Grant Still marries his second wife, Verna Arvey.

The music of William Grant Still is played continuously at the Perisphere for the Theme Exhibit at the New York World's Fair.[sound clip]

The Archive of American Folksong at the Library of Congress records a History of Jazz with Ferdinand "Jelly Roll" Morton.

After being denied permission to perform in Constitution Hall because of color, Marian Anderson (1899-1993) gives a concert before an audience of 75,000 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.



Duncan Still born in Los Angeles, California. He is the first son of William Grant Still's second marriage.

William Grant Still composes And They Lynched Him on a Tree, for two choruses, narrator, and contralto, with orchestra.[sound clip]

The Cotton Club closes in Harlem.

Wendell Logan born in Thomson, Georgia.


William Grant Still completes the operas A Bayou Legend and Troubled Island

Plain-Chant for America composed by William Grant Still.[sound clip]

Howard University awards William Grant Still an honorary doctorate.

The National Negro Opera Company, the first permanent black opera company in the U. S., organized in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania by Mary Cardwell Dawson (1894-1962). The organization continues until 1962.


Judith Anne Still born in Los Angeles, California.

Congress of Racial Equality founded.


William Grant Still composes In Memoriam: The Colored Soldiers who Died for Democracy, for orchestra.

William Grant Still composes a suite for violin and piano.[sound clip]

Nat "King" Cole (1917-1965) makes his first recording, "Straighten Up and Fly Right."


Dizzy Gillespie begins to play at the Onyx Club in New York City. He is joined by jazz saxophonist Charlie "Bird" Parker; the bebop style emerges.


William Grant Still's Festive Overture is given its first performance on January 19th by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Eugene Goosens conducting. This work won first place in the orchestra's jubilee season competition by unanimous vote of the judges.[sound clip]
Sarah Vaughan performs at an amateur contest and as a result is hired by Earl Hines; this is the beginning of her career.

Robert Todd Duncan (1903- ) becomes the first black singer to perform with a major opera company, the New York City Opera.


Gospel/jazz singer Dinah Washington begins recording for Mercury Records.

Mahalia Jackson records "Move On Up a Little Higher."

After singing on the Vaudeville circuit and in the U.S.O., Pearl Bailey (1918-1990) makes her Broadway debut in St. Louis Woman.


William Grant Still awarded an honorary doctorate by Oberlin College.


Doris Akers (1923- ) forms the Simmons-Akers Singers.

Conductor (Charles) Dean Dixon (1915-1976) awarded the Alice M. Ditson Award for the most outstanding Amercian conductor of 1947-48. Unable to secure a post in the U.S., Dixon leaves to conduct in Europe the following year.


William Grant Still's opera Troubled Island premiered by the New York City opera; it is the first opera by a black American to be performed by a major opera company.[sound clip]

William Grant Still composes Songs of Separation[sound clip]

Jazz pianist Oscar Peterson makes his debut at Carnegie Hall in New York.

The term "rhythm and blues" coined by the music industry, replacing "race records."



Mahalia Jackson sings in the first gospel concert in Carnegie Hall, New York City.

Errol L. Garner makes his concert debut as a jazz pianist in Cleveland, Ohio.


William Warfield and Muriel Rahn (1911-1961) become the first black concert artists to appear on television (The Ed Sullivan Show)

Julia Amanda Perry (1924-1979) composes Stabat Mater for contralto and string orchestra.

Howard Swanson, regarded as the leading black composer of he generation succeeding Still, premieres his Short Symphony.


Hale Smith earns the BMI Student Composer's Award.

Marian Anderson makes her television debut (The Ed Sullivan Show).


Vee Jay Records founded in Chicago, Illinois.


Bates College awards William Grant Still an honorary doctorate.

Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte star in Carmen Jones

Newport Jazz Festival inaugurated, Newport, Rhode Island.

The Chords, a singing group, record "Sh-Boom," recognized as the first rock'n'roll song on records.


Marian Anderson performs at the Metropolitan Opera as Ulrica in Verdi's The Masked Ball She is the first black artist to perform with the Met.

Leontyne Price appears on NBC Television in Puccini's Tosca.

Charles "Chuck" Berry (1926-) records his first song "Maybellene."

Antoine "Fats" Domino (1928- ) records "Blueberry Hill."


William Grant Still composes Ennanga, for harp and orchestra or flute and strings.[sound clip]

Premiere of the Nat "King" Cole television show.

James Brown (1928- ) records "Please, Please, Please," the first of his hits.

Concert baritone McHenry Boatwright (1928- ) makes his debut at Jordan Hall in Boston.

Art Tatum, jazz pianist, dies in Los Angeles, California.


William "Count" Basie (1904-1984) gives a command performance for Queen Elizabeth II of England.


"Little Richard" Penniman (1932- ) records "Tutti Frutti."

The Monterey Jazz Festival founded in Monterey, California.


Motown Records founded in Detroit Michigan.



Louis Armstrong (c. 1898-1971) tours Africa, playing for an audience of 10,000 in the Congo.

Chubby Checker [Ernest Evans] (1941- ) records "The Twist," starting the biggest dance craze since the Charleston in the 1920s.

Shirley Caesar (1938- ) popularizes the "song and sermonette" style while recording "Hallelujah, It's Done" with the Caravans.

Ornette Coleman (1930- ) records the album Free Jazz, beginning his development of avant-garde jazz.


Metropolitan Opera debut of Leontyne Price in Verdi's Il Trovatore

Margaret Allison Bonds composes Ballad of the Brown King with text by Langston Hughes.

Grace Bumbry performs at Bayreuth in Wagner's Tannhäuser

Diana Ross and The Supremes form and begin to record for Motown Records.


American Folk Blues Festival founded by Willie Dixon (1915-1976) and "Memphis Slim" Peter Chatman (1915- ).


André Watts plays the Liszt Piano Concerto No. 1 with the New York Philharmonic, conducted by Leonard Bernstein.

Stevie Wonder gains fame with his first recordings and his appearance at the Apollo Theatre in New York.


Louis Armstrong (c. 1898-1971) records "Hello Dolly," his only number one record.

Thelonius Monk is featured on the cover of Time magazine.


Dorothy Maynor founds the Harlem School of the Arts in New York City.

Sacred music by Duke Ellington (1899-1974) performed at Grace Cathedral Church in San Francisco, California.

Nat "King" Cole dies in Santa Monica, California.

Duke student/composer Anthony M. Kelley born.

Entertainer Sammy Davis Jr. (1925-1990) publishes his autobiography, Yes, I Can, detailing a career that spanned vaudeville, film and Broadway musicals, nightclub singing, and television.


First World Festival of Negro Arts at Dakar, Senegal.


Charley Pride (1938- ) debuts at the Grand Ole Opry.

Concert pianist, composer, and writer Philippa Duke Schuyler (1931-1967) dies in a helicopter crash in Da Nang Bay, Vietnam.


Henry Lewis (1932- ) appointed as director of the New Jersey Symphony.

The jazz cellist/composer David Baker (1931- ) premiers his cantata, Black America: To the Memory of Martin Luther King.

James Brown (1928- ) records "Black Is Beautiful: Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud."

Composer Olly Wilson's Cetus wins first prize at the First Inernational Electronic Music Competition at Dartmouth, New Hampshire.

Rev. James Cleveland (1931-1991) founds the Gospel Music Workshop of America, training singers in the art of black gospel music.


Undine Smith Moore founds the Black Music Center, Virginia State University, Petersburg, Virginia.

Singer Jessye Norman makes her operatic debut as Elisabeth in Wagner's Tannhauser in Berlin.

Eubie Blake records The Eighty-Six Years of Eubie Blake

The Jackson Five sign a contract with Motown Records and record "I Want You Back."


Dean Dixon (1915-1976) returns to the U.S. after living in Europe since 1949. He conducts the New York Philharmonic summer concert series.

The Cuban composer/conductor Tania León (1943- ) premieres her ballet, Tones.

Pearl Bailey (1918-1990) stars in her own television series on ABC-TV.

Miles Davis records his innovative and influential album, Bitches Brew

Rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix (1942-1970) dies of an overdose of drugs in London.

The University of Arkansas awards William Grant Still an honorary doctorate.

Louis Armstrong dies in New York City.

Opera/South presentsUlysses Kay's The Juggler and William Grant Still's Highway No. 1, U. S. A.

Kathleen Battle makes her solo debut in Brahms' Requiem at Spoleto, Italy.

World premiere of Scott Joplin's opera Treemonisha in Atlanta, Georgia.


Pepperdine University and the New England Conservatory of Music each award William Grant Still an honorary doctoral degree.

Bernice Johnson Reagon (1942- ) forms the singing group Sweet Honey in the Rock.

First issue of the periodical, Black Perspective in Music

Scholar/choirmaster Horace Clarence Boyer (1935- ) records the gospel-music album Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory.

The piano music of Scott Joplin is revived for the hit movie The Sting


Premiere of William Grant Still's opera A Bayou Legend by Opera/South.

The Peabody Conservatory awards William Grant Still an honorary doctorate.

William Grant Still cited as "a distinguished Mississippian" by the governor of Mississippi.

Duke Ellington dies in New York City.


The University of Southern California at Los Angeles awards William Grant Still an honorary doctorate.


Premiere of Olly Wilson's Sometimes for Tenor and Electronic Tape.

Premiere of Ulysses Kay's Jubilee given by Opera/South under James De Priest.

George T. Walker (1922- ) fuses classical tradition and the swing style of Duke Ellington in his Piano Concerto.


Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture at Lagos, Nigeria.

Jazz pianist Mary Lou Williams becomes artist-in-residence at Duke University.

ABC broadcasts the television series Roots, based on the novel by Alex Haley (1921-1992).


William Grant Still dies in Los Angeles on 3 December.

Howard Swanson dies in New York City.

T. J. Anderson's 50th birthday celebrated with a concert including his Variations on a Theme by Alban Berg.


National Black Music Colloquium and Competition held in Washington, D. C.



The Black Entertainment Network (BET) is established in Washington, D.C.


A Bayou Legend, by William Grant Still, produced for PBS.

Songs of Zion, a collection of hymns, spirituals, and gospel songs, issued as a supplement to the official hymnal of the United Methodist Church.

Mary Lou Williams dies in Durham, North Carolina.

Scholar Samuel Floyd Jr. (1937- ) publishes An Anthology of the Music of Black American Composers.


Eileen Southern publishes the Biographical Dictionary of Afro-American and African Musicians (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1982).

Michael Jackson releases Thriller


Eubie Blake dies in New York City.

Television program "Motown 25--Yesterday, Today, and Forever" is broadcast by NBC.


Premiere of William Grant Still's Minette Fontaine given by the Baton Rough Opera Company.[sound clip]

Wynton Marsalis (1961- ) wins Grammy Awards in both the jazz and classical categories, the first musician to do so.

Count Basie dies in Hollywood, Florida.


Leontyne Price gives her farewell performance at the Metropolitan Opera in Verdi's Aida



Aretha Franklin (1942- ) is the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.



William Levi Dawson dies in Tuskegee, Alabama.

Pearl Bailey dies in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.


Rev. James Cleveland dies in Los Angeles, California.


Branford Marsalis (1960- ) becomes musical director for the "Tonight Show."


William Grant Still Symposium held at St. Augustine's College, Raleigh, North Carolina.