Guide to the William Grant Still Papers, 1877-1992
The William Grant Still Papers, 1877-1992, contain chiefly photocopies of music, writings, correspondence, diaries, pictures, printed material, clippings, and recordings, which primarily document his work as a composer. The collection relates to the historical and critical study of his music, as well as being a valuable source of arrangements for performances. Still's music gained recognition due to his ability to compose classical music which both reflected distinctive African-American as well as African influences. In addition, materials (primarily writings and librettos), created by Verna Arvey, Still's second wife, also form an integral part of the collection.
A substantial portion of the collection is comprised of music in manuscript and printed formats as well as in recorded formats, and is contained in the Music series and Recordings series. The collection does not contain all the music Still composed, however it does contain a substantial number of his works and can adequately support the research of Still's compositions. The various genres or mediums in which Still worked, including symphonies, operas, spirituals, songs, and chamber music are represented in the collection. Conductors' scores and published arrangements are included. Among the various publishers represented are Charles Pace and W.C. Handy Company and the J. Fischer and Brothers. Originals from these companies are present. Countee Cullen, Verna Arvey, Arna Bontemps, Langston Hughes, and Katherine Garrison Chapin are represented among those who wrote librettos or texts for Still's arrangements. Recordings for some of Still's works are available in compact disc, LP, and audio cassette formats. Included in the recordings are performances by Louis Kaufman, Peter Christ, Videmus, the William Grant Still Music Performing Arts Society, the Denver Symphony and San Francisco Symphony Orchestras, and other individual artists and orchestras.
Insofar as documenting Still's professional life, the diaries, writings, and correspondence are less complete than the music. Since gaps are evident within the diaries and correspondence, these materials do not provide a full and detailed understanding of Still's career development. However, some information pertaining to his work as well as his personal life is available. The Writings series contains several articles by Still as well as biographical and critical works about Still and his music. This series also contains writings by Verna Arvey and Judith Anne Still. An autographed copy of Arvey's In One Lifetime is included. The Correspondence series includes letters between Still and Alain Locke as well as Still and Charles Burch. Within these exchanges, there is some discussion and criticism of Still's compositions, reflections on the problems confronting African-American musicians in the 1930s, and a discussion of the possibility of Still teaching at Howard University. Correspondence between Arvey and Carl Van Vechten is also included. The diaries of both Still and Verna Arvey primarily record daily activities. However, Still's diary entries from 1930 contain reflections on his faith and spirituality, his music, and his first marriage to Grace Bundy. Within the Printed Materials and Clippings series are programs and newspaper articles, many of which are originals, that document the performances and the wide acceptance of Still's music.
The Scrapbooks series primarily contain Verna Arvey's collection of clippings which document political and social events between the 1940s and the early 1970s. These clippings demonstrate Verna Arvey's strong interest in the anti-Communist movements of the mid-twentieth century, primarily Senator Joseph McCarthy's investigations. The contents of these scrapbooks do not directly relate to William Grant Still's music. To a lesser extent the scrapbooks contain clippings pertaining to race and the status of African-Americans in the United States.
- Collection Number
- William Grant Still papers
- Still, William Grant, 1895-1978
- 12 Linear Feet, circa 2,250 Items
- David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
- Correspondence, 1924-1982, undated
- Diaries, 1928-1979.
- Scrapbooks, 1877-1973, undated (bulk 1953-1973).
- Printed Material, 1930-1992, undated
- Clippings, 1926-1989, undated
- Miscellaneous Series, 1936-1989, undated
- Writings, 1929-1992, undated
- Pictures, 1911-1949, undated
- Music, 1921-1991,n.d
- Oversize Materials
- Recordings, 1935-1991, undated
- Printed Material,1991, undated
Access to the Collection
Duplication of the materials in the William Grant Still papers is restricted.
Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection.
All or portions of this collection may be housed off-site in Duke University's Library Service Center. The library may require up to 48 hours to retrieve these materials for research use.
Please contact Research Services staff before visiting the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library to use this collection.
Use & Permissions
The copyright interests in the William Grant Still papers have not been transferred to Duke University. For further information, see the section on copyright in the Regulations and Procedures of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.
Includes photocopies of personal letters between Still and Alain Locke as well as letters between Still and Charles Burch. Correspondence between Verna Arvey and Carl Van Vechten is also included. Van Vechten was interested in photographing Still as well as acquiring Still manuscripts for the James Weldon Johnson Collection at Yale University.
Contains photocopies of the diaries and daybooks of Still and Verna Arvey. Still's diary entries, especially from 1930, disclose information about his relationship with his first wife Grace Bundy and family financial struggles. The diaries also provide some insights into the progression of his compositions. Arvey's five-year diaries or daybooks record her daily activities. Arvey's earlier daybooks are more complete than the copies from the 1970s.
Photocopies of Verna Arvey's "Racial-political-historical" scrapbook. The scrapbook primarily consists of articles from the Los Angeles Herald And Express and chronicles various major political events, especially the McCarthy investigations.
Includes programs and advertisements for various performances of William Grant Still's music. Primarily original materials with some photocopies.
Includes photocopies and originals of newspaper reviews of Still's music and performances of his works.
Includes copies of Still and Avery's wills and other legal documents, a statement of royalties, a puzzle, and proclamations recognizing Still. Chiefly photocopies.
Primarily articles by Still and Verna Arvey, as well as books by Arvey and Judith Anne Still. Also included is an article by Langston Hughes pertaining to the libretto he wrote for Troubled Island, and articles by Alain Locke. Includes original publications and photocopies, no manuscript drafts are present.
Contains black and white images of Still and his family. Some of the images capture moments in Still's professional career.
Comprised of the following subseries: Ballets, Cantatas, Chamber Music, Operas, Orchestras, Piano, Spiritual Arrangements, Songs, and Miscellaneous. The subseries reflect the various genres of music composed by William Grant Still.
Includes the composer's notes for La Guiablesse and the arrangement and play for The Sorcerer.
Contains a J. Fischer and Bro. original of And They Lynched Him on A Tree.
Arrangements of Still's compositions by Anthony Griggs and Thomas Smith are included.
Included is a signed and inscribed copy of Bayou Legend and a conductor's score for The Pillar. Librettists for the various works include Bruce Forsythe, Langston Hughes, Frank Sherwood, and Verna Arvey.
Includes an original publication of Wood Notes and works by other composers which were orchestrated by Still.
Contains pieces primarily written for piano instrumentation.
Contains Songs of Separations, for which lyrics were written by Langston Hughes, Arna Bontemps, Countee Cullen, and others. Other lyricists include Kate Chapin and Verna Arvey. Also includes From the Hearts of Women, Plainchant for America, Breath of A Rose, and a collection of Still's songs in Twelve Negro Spirituals published by Handy Brothers Publishing. Also contains folk songs composed by Still.
Includes an original of Ah Got a Home In-A Dat Rock printed by Charles Pace and W.C. Handy. Lyrics for some works were written by Verna Arvey. Contains some fragments.
Includes full symphonies and symphonic poems, such as Darker America and Kaintuck The composer's notes for Symphony No.2 are present.
Contains band suites, solos pieces, sketches for Stormy Weather, children's music, and fragments.
Arranged alphabetically by title.
Primarily recordings of Still's music in audio cassettes, compact disc, and phonograph record formats. The recordings have been grouped together according to their respective formats. Recordings are arranged alphabetically within each format. The performing artists have been noted when they could be readily identified.
|1895, May 11||
Born in Woodville, Miss.
Moved to Little Rock, Ark. with mother, Carrie Fambro Still
Matriculated at Wilberforce College
Married Grace Bundy
Played in W. C. Handy's band.
Employed in music publishing company of W. C. Handy and Charles Pace (Memphis, Tenn.)
Entered Oberlin Conservatory
Composed Darker America
Composed Breath of a Rose
Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra performed Afro-American Symphony
|1934, 1935 and 1938||
Won Guggenheim Fellowships
Commissioned to compose music for the 1939 New York World's Fair
Married Verna Arvey
Arranged Katherine Garrison Chapin's poem, And They Lynched Him on a Tree
Composed Bayou Legend
Completed Troubled Island (Libretto by Langston Hughes and Verna Arvey)
First full recording of Afro-American Symphony
|1978, Dec. 3||
Died in Los Angeles
Orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic and the Chicago Symphony, have performed Still's works throughout the United States. He received honorary degrees from the University of Arkansas, Wilberforce College, and Bates College.
Click to find related materials at Duke University Libraries.
- Arvey, Verna, 1910-
- Burch, Charles
- Bontemps, Arna Wendell, 1902-1933
- Chapin, Katherine Garrison, 1890-1977
- Hughes, Langston, 1902-1967
- Kaufman, Louis, 1905-
- Still, William Grant, 1895-1978
- Van Vechten, Carl, 1880-1964
- African American composers
- Chamber music -- 20th century
- Music -- Manuscripts -- United States
- Music -- 20th century
- Orchestral music -- 20th century
- Opera -- 20th century
- Spirituals (Songs)
- Symphonies -- 20th century
The William Grant Still Papers (1877-1992) were purchased by Duke University in 1992.
Processed by: Daniel Daily. Assisted by: Boyd Gibson, Sandra Hack Polaski, Stephen Zank, Rachel Sullivan, and Sallie Locke
Completed October 1, 1993
Encoded by Stephen D. Miller