By Boyd E. Gibson

Synopsis of Letters in the William Grant Still Collection
Still to Alain Locke
Still to Carl Van Vechten
Still to Burch
Verna Arvey to Burch
Verna Arvey to Carl Van Vechten
Verna Arvey to Locke
Locke to Verna Arvey
Carl Van Vechten to Verna

Langston Hughes Papers Correspondence (From Yale)
Subject Index

The letters in the William Grant Still Collection, held in Special Collections at Duke University, are quite informative, and they are able to shed light on various aspects of the composer's life, times and works. The majority of the letters in this collection consists of communications to and from such notables and associates of Still as Alain Locke, Charles Burch, and Carl Van Vechten. Verna Arvey, Still's wife, would often write and receive letters on behalf of her husband from these men. The collection also contains a few miscellaneous letters from people such as R. Nathaniel Dett, Howard Hanson, and other collaborators, but the bulk of the collection is based on the letters from or to Locke, Burch, and Van Vechten. Alain Locke (1885-1954) is best known for his activities surrounding the Harlem Renaissance, although his work and influence extend well beyond the Renaissance. Locke not only helped to popularize the description of the movement through his book The New Negro, published in 1925, but he was the one person who defined it. His interest and writings cover a wide range of topics which include not only philosophy, but also music, art, literature, anthropology, political theory, sociology, and African Studies. In addition to his chairing and teaching in the Department of Philosophy at Howard University he spent a great deal of time advising and encouraging many African American artists in various fields.

Locke was fired from Howard in 1925 because of his efforts to secure equal pay for both white and black professors. However, he was reinstated in 1928. It was during his absence from Howard that Locke's productivity increased, and he established many relationships with artist and philanthropist. It was also during this period that he established his friendship with William Grant Still. Many believed that the Renaissance died sometime between the years 1935 and 1939 due to various reasons. While Locke may have distanced himself from many of his former associates after this time he continued to keep in touch with Still long after the alleged demise of the Black Renaissance.

Carl Van Vechten (1880-1964) was a central figure in the Harlem Renaissance. His historic novel Nigger Heaven helped to show the African American in a more favorable light. He was also responsible for showing that African Americans were capable of producing art of a high standard, which was a basic tenet of the Renaissance. Van Vechten had a wide circle of friends who depended on him to show them around Harlem, when Harlem was in vogue. This circle of associates included writers, such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, James Weldon Johnson, Langston Hughes, and Norman Mailer. His circle of musicians included George Gershwin, Ned Rorem, Virgil Thomson, Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Rubinstein, Jascha Heifetz, Mahalia Jackson, Paul Robeson, and Cab Calloway. Artists included Marc Chagall, Salvador Dali, Marcel Duchamp and Aaron Douglas. He also served as an associate music critic for the New York Times in the early 1900s. He was responsible for the creation of several major collections, the James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection of Negro Arts and Letters at Yale, and the Anna Marble Pollack Memorial Library of Books about Cats, also at Yale. At Fisk University he placed the George Gershwin Memorial Collection of Music and Music Literature and the Florine Stettheimer Memorial Collection of Books about the Fine Arts. His collection of manuscripts and personal correspondence is at the New York Public Library. Van Vechten was an avid photographer and took extensive photographs of nearly all of his associates. His tireless efforts to photograph Still can be seen in his letters.

There are twenty-eight letters from Still to Locke and twenty-five from Locke to Still. Verna wrote to Locke at least once and Locke responded at least once to Verna. There are sixty-one letters that Carl Van Vechten wrote to the Stills, twenty seven addressed to Still and thirty four to Verna. However, the majority of the responses from the Stills are not included in this collection. There are only two letters to Carl Van Vechten from the Stills.

This collection does not contain any of the letters from Charles Burch. Therefore, one only has one side of the conversation, as opposed to the many two-sided conversations that one is privileged to find in the Locke letters. There are eighteen letters from the Stills to Burch, fourteen from William, and four from Verna. While these letters are useful, there are missing letters from others that could also be very helpful for a study of Still's life and music, if they could be located. These would include letters from Still's collaborators of librettos such as Ricahrd Bruce, the librettist for Sahdji; Langston Hughes, the librettist for Still's first successful opera Troubled Island, and Katherine Chapin Biddle, who collaborated with Still on works such as Plain Chant for America and They Hung Him from a Tree.

There are letters from Still to Hughes located in the Langston Hughes papers at Yale (see Appendix 2). It would also be helpful if there were letters from conductors who worked with Still, such as Leopold Stokowski and John Barbirolli. There is one letter from Howard Hanson (M008) that thanks Still for the dedication of Sahdji, which he premiered. However, there must be other letters from Hanson. Around May of 1930 Still wrote to Locke (SL003) and stated that he had received a letter from Hanson, in which Hanson tells him of the orchestra's positive reaction to Sahdji during their first rehearsal. This can not be the letter already in the collection (M008), for that letter was written in August.

By examining the letters that are available, one is able to see how particular compositions by the composer came into being through the encouragement of Alain Locke (who introduced him to Richard Bruce and Mrs. Biddle [Katherine Chapin]), or specific types of problems, such as delays that Still experienced while working on a particular work. These letters are also valuable in showing how these individuals felt about Still's work as well how the public and critics felt. A careful study and analysis of these letters is also helpful in helping one to understand more fully the personality, feelings, and philosophy of the composer and his time.

The issue concerning the use of folk elements in the music comes through the Still-Locke correspondence. The first letter in this collection from Alain Locke (AS001), of July 1927, to Still recommends collaboration on a choral-ballet with the libretto by Mr. Bruce. Still's response (SL001) is one of enthusiasm and states that he wants to do some research into African musical instruments, and he also wants to have some of his African friends sing traditional songs for him. Still makes it quite clear that he does not intend to use these songs as themes in his work but that he wants to capture their character in his original music. This attitude would fall into line with the ideas of nationalism in American music that were prevalent at this time. The idea was to capture the essence, flavor or character of a particular type of music without actually quoting existing folk songs.

While Still wanted to write in a nationalistic vein he also wanted to be able to write music without being forced to use African American musical elements. In his letter to Locke (SL011) he writes about the fair commission and adds that it is good that he has the opportunity to write something that does not have to be "Negroid." He also wants the same opportunity extended to his colleagues. In his letter (SL021) he expresses the opinion that Burleigh should have some of his abstract songs programmed and not just his arrangements of spirituals. In Locke's letter (LS003) he tells Still that in his opinion that his music which uses folk idioms is more moving than his music in a more modernistic vein. This falls into line with Locke's philosophy and advice given to artists in other disciplines, especially the plastic arts. In LS019 Locke states that he would have wished for more native and primitive rhythm in the folk scenes and choruses of Troubled Island.

The next five letters from Still (SL002-SL006) to Locke all center around Sahdji. They included a delay in the work, the need for more information concerning the libretto, and the results of the rehearsals for the premier. In LS005 Locke expresses his feelings about a review by Olin Downes of Still's Symphony in G Minor. Locke remarks that the very traits which Downes considers to the work's weaknesses are, in his opinion, the strong points of the music. Still responds with his feelings and philosophy to Locke in his letter of Dec 31, 1937 (SL010), where he is responding to Locke's letter LS005;

 ...."I want to tell you, too, that your comment on my new
     Symphony in G minor was, to me, the most apt that has
     yet been made.  I thoroughly disapprove of following
     tradition--just because it is the thing to do.  As a
     matter of fact, the critics would have accused me of
     slavishly adhering to the methods and treatments
     developed by others.  Imitation is, in their eyes, the
     worst fault that a colored man can possess.  Yet we
     find them criticizing when he does not possess it! 
          It also seems strange to me that when I write
     short compositions I am roundly censured for not
     developing my thematic material to the fullest possible
     extent, whereas when I do develop it, they say my
     compositions are too long.

     Did you notice that Lawrence Gilman has twice
     accused me of imitating Delius?  When I wrote the first
     composition of which he said that, I had not heard a
     note of Delius' music in my life.  Moreover, recently I
     was reading a book about Delius, wherein it was said
     that Delius received his first inspiration to compose
     from hearing the Negroes sing on his Florida plantation."

Through the Still-Locke letters one is able to gain some insight into the Howard University issue concerning the consideration of Still to become the new dean of the School of Music. Still is pleasantly surprised that he is even being considered, yet he does not feel that it would be best for him as a composer. However, he does not immediately dismiss the idea. One can also follow along with Still's decision-making process concerning this position in his letters to Charles Burch. It is unfortunate that Burch's response is not present in this collection, especially since Still mentions in SB008 how Burch's and Brice's view of the position do not coincide. One is also able to see a difference in opinion between Locke and Still concerning the African American violinst and composer, Clarence Cameroon White, as well as Still's opinion of Warner Lawson, who finally became the dean (SL019, LS010).

The Still-Locke letters also indicate the awareness that both men shared of their time and the problems that faced them as a race. LS006 and Still's response SL012 speak to the issue of lynching. Still voices his excitement in collaborating on such an important issue, and he hopes that his music will aid in the need of growing awareness and brotherhood. In LS011, LS012 and SL022 Still and Locke address the issues of World War II and how it may have an effect on African Americans. In SL023 Still makes significant remarks concerning Locke's efforts toward "uplift" which Still refers to as "race building". The Still-Locke letters reflect the dominant thinking of the Harlem Renaissance that by showing the rest of the world that African Americans were capable of producing works of culture poetry, novels, painting, sculpture, and symphonies, and that this would help to fight and rid the world of racism. This attitude can be seen in Verna's letter to Locke (VL002) where she states, "If the opera production goes through according to present plans it will be the biggest thing for Negro culture that has ever been attempted here or abroad. He is not only going to show the world that Negroes can sing such music, but Negroes can create such music, and such fine poetry." The Still Locke letters clearly show the amount of collaboration and influence that Locke, a prominent figure in the Harlem Renaissance, had on Still.

The idea of "race building" is also expressed in a letter by Carl Van Vechten. In writing about the musical successes of Leontyne Price and George Shirley (CVV030), he states, "The Negro is forging ahead with great strides."

Many of Van Vechten's letters and postcards to the Stills speak of the importance of the James Weldon Johnson Collection that he was putting together at Yale and how important it was that they continue to support it. Van Vechten also established a George Gershwin Collection at Fisk University and in CVV017 Van Vechten spells out his rationale for establishing the collection of a prominent African American at Yale and for the Gershwin collection at Fisk, a historical black college. Van Vechten is very concerned about building bridges and having a personal and direct role to play in bringing the races together, and the reasons that he gives for these two collections being located where they are is so that African Americans would have to go to Yale to study James Weldon Johnson or any other aspect of the Harlem Renaissance that was included in the collection and those who were interested in George Gershwin, particularly white Americans, would have to go to a black university for those materials, thereby bringing the two races into contact with each other.

The correspondence between the Stills and Van Vechten gives an indication of the respect that they held for each other. One can also trace the encouragement that the Stills received from Van Vechten in both their professional and personal lives. Verna was interested in having her book on dance published and had sent it to several publishers who had rejected it. In CVV015 Carl encourages Verna by telling her that the rejection only represents an opinion and that many times opinions are not based on sound judgement. In order to underscore this point he relates an incident about the time he had been invited to the home of Walter White (director of the N.A.A.C.P) to hear a young singer and to give his opinion. The opinion he gave was, "She had a good voice but she sings with so little feeling I should advise her to take up some other line. I do not see how she can ever make a success." He then goes on to state to Verna that his opinion in this case was quite mistaken, for the young singer was Marian Anderson.

Van Vechten also gives his opinion of Still's compositions and their subsequent performances. In CVS016 he writes concerning Troubled Island: he thinks that the Langston Hughes' libretto would have been served better with more favorable direction. This is the only letter in the collection that William replies to personally (SCV001) (the other letter to Van Vechten was written by Verna). Still thanks Carl for his encouragement and gives his reasons and choice for director.

The letters of both Locke and Van Vechten speak of performances of Still's music that they heard either live or through radio performances. The letters also give their reactions to the performance and composition. Through them one is able to get a sense of Still's popularity at the time and the number of performances he must have had both live and on the radio.

Since this collection does not contain the letters from Charles Burch only the letters to himDit is difficult to draw decisive conclusions. However, one can ascertain that their correspondence included mention of the performances of Still's music since, William would inform Burch of upcoming radio performances (SB002). They also contain Still's side of the conversation concerning his consideration of the position as dean of the School of Music at Howard University (SB002, SB006).

Several of the miscellaneous letters are of interest because of the secondary information they give concerning Still or others. The one letter from Robert Nathaniel Dett (M011) gives an interesting tidbit that Dett has added words to his movement Juba (part of his suite for piano In The Bottoms). Another miscellaneous letter of interest is M012, because it appears to be typed by someone other than Still's wife, Verna. This raises some interesting questions. At this time, 1938, did Still consider himself too busy or successful enough to hire a secretary? If so, how much typing was done by this person and where are the other letters? The reply is interesting enough also in light of the fact that Still states that his publisher, George Fisher, is about to publish his life and works. Although there are plenty of gaps in this collection of letters, there is still enough information that one would find very useful. There is also enough interesting information to whet one's appetite, and make one want to investigate further and find more of the letters to fill in the many gaps that exist, e.g. the Still's letters to Carl Van Vechten. It is the presence of the two-way communication that exist in the letters of the Still-Locke dialogue that make them the most useful in this collection. If it is possible to fill the gaps with the letters from and to the many other collaborators and associates of Still, even more useful information will be available to continue to assess the life, times and work of William Grant Still.

Synopsis of Letters in the William Grant Still Collection

Still to Alain Locke


Still to Locke Sep 3, 1927 Re: Still is responding to Locke's request to write a choral ballet (Sahdji). Still says that he is interested, and wants to do some research on African musical instruments and collect some native songs from African friends. He adds the following "p.s.": "The themes used in the ballet will be original. I am planning to study the native songs so that the music will have that character."


Still to Locke Oct 29 1928 Still states he has fallen behind on the ballet and wants to know if he should proceed.


Still to Locke [ca 1930 Before May 19] Re: Festival that begins May 19 and closes May 22 with a performance of Sahdji. States that he received a letter from Hanson yesterday; he quotes Hanson, "You will be interested to know that after my first rehearsal with the orchestra that the orchestra members put down their instruments and applauded the work. As you know, this is most unusual for a professional group and it only shows how deeply impressed they were with your music. I think myself that it is a stunning piece of work and should make a deep impression."


Still to Locke [ca 1930] Re: Hanson has wired Still to be present for Monday's rehearsal. Still hopes Locke and Mr. Bruce will be present for the performance of Sahdji. He mentions that on the same program there is a one-act opera by a very talented contemporary composer.


Still to Locke [ca. 1930] Re: Thanks Locke for article in Opportunity. Is revising Sahdji by incorporating a Prologue and strengthening many passages and improving the orchestration. Hopes Sahdji will be performed in England with Paul Robeson.


Still to Locke [ca 1930] Re: "Sahdji was received with great enthusiasm. Here is an article from one of the Rochester papers. Sorry you were not there to witness the performance. "P.S." You will find in the New York Times May 24 an article by Olin Downes in which you and Mr. Bruce are mentioned."


Still to Locke [ca. July 15 1930] Re: Thank you for an article in Opportunity.


Still to Locke Jan 24 1931 Re: Has not heard from Locke in some time, Sahdji is to be produced at the University of Rochester (Eastman School of Music). Herman Genhart has written Still for information that will help in costumes and scenery, and Still wants Locke to write him right away.


Still to Locke March 22, 1937 Re: Still likes Alain's book, The Negro and His Music and thanks him for his treatment of himself and compares its approach to Maud Cuney-Hare's book. Is not familiar with Sesana's Negro Heaven or even what medium it is.


Still to Locke Dec 31, 1937 Re: Thanks Locke for his comments on the Symphony in G Minor and explains his philosophy for composition, and states that he is working on a opera on a Haitian subject to a Langston Hughes libretto [Troubled Island]. "I want to tell you, too, that your comment on my new Symphony in G minor was, to me, the most apt that has yet been made. I thoroughly disapprove of following tradition--just because it is the thing to do. As a matter of fact, the critics would have accused me of slavishly adhering to the methods and treatments developed by others. Imitation is, in their eyes, the worst fault that a colored man can possess. Yet we find them criticizing when he does not possess it! It also seems strange to me that when I write short compositions I am roundly censured for not developing my thematic material to the fullest possible extent, whereas when I do develop it, they say my compositions are too long. Did you notice that Lawrence Gilman has twice accused me of imitating Delius? When I wrote the first composition of which he said that, I had not heard a not of Delius' music in my life. Moreover, recently I was reading a book about Delius, wherein it was said that Delius received his first inspiration to compose from hearing the Negroes sing on his Florida plantation."


Still to Locke Aug 6 1939 Re: Missed seeing Locke while in NY Locke's ballet sounds interesting but is too busy at the moment. Finished the orchestration for the fair music, the new opera and another new ballet. Mentions the article that Verna wrote for him, and Miss Nickerson is now here. Thoughts concerning the honor of the fair commission and that he can write something that does not have to be "Negroid".


Still to Locke August 18, 1939 Re: Reply to Locke's letter of Aug 9. He is thrilled with the idea and expresses his concern for the problem of lynching and his hope of a growing awareness and brotherhood in the US.


Still to Locke Aug 22, 1939 Re: Thank you note and to inform him that Mrs. Biddle did come by and that he was excited about the project.


Still to Locke July 6, 1940 Re: Response to Locke's July 2 letter; expresses his feelings about Mr. Fischer of Fischer Publishing.


Still to Locke [ca. July 5, 1940] Re: Thank you for sending the program.


Still to Locke Sep 13, 1940 Re: Seeking permission to use the review of "And They Lynched Him on a Tree" from the journal Opportunity in an edition of Fischer Edition News. Applied for another Fellowship and named Locke as a reference.


Still to Locke Sep 22, 1940 Re: Thank you for the reprint of the review and wants to discuss the opening at Howard University for Dean of the School of Music.


Still to Locke Nov 3 1940 Re: Howard University position and Locke's involvement as well as an upcoming Library of Congress program.


Still to Locke Dec 12, 1940 Re: Ballad performance of Mrs. Biddle with Miss Burge as narrator and chorus. Nothing on the Library of Congress concert. Roland Hayes sang a spiritual arrangement (though Still felt it was the least representative) and Still expresses his feelings about prominent black performers not performing his work. He also thinks that Clarence Cameron White would make a good Dean of Music at Howard. Thinks of him more as a composer than violinist.


Still to Locke Jan 14, 1941 Re: Response to Dec 18 [letter missing?] Thanks for sending program of the Library of Congress series and for suggesting that he write to Dorothy Maynor.


Still to Locke July 13, 1941 Re: Reply to Locke's letter of July 8. Responds to the war and commencement at Howard. Mentions that he is working on a new opera for Mr. Barbirolli. Mentions that he missed the Dean Dixon broadcast concerts but expresses concerns about the lack of representation from black composers and suggests that Chevalier de St. George's music be programmed or abstract songs by Burleigh and not just spiritual arrangements.


Still to Locke [ca. Sep 2, 1941] Re. A new collaboration with Biddle that he had not told Locke about and a work for Barbirolli and the New York Philharmonic Centennial but will use "Plain Chant" instead to open the concert with. He expresses his delight over the collaborations with Mrs. Biddle and thanks Locke for bringing them together.


Still to Locke Sep. 8 1941 3670 Cimarron St. Los Angeles Re: Information concerning pictures with Mrs. Biddle and Mr. Barbirolli. He also makes significant remarks concerning race building and Locke's efforts. He tells of a commission that he finished in 8 days (for the 160th anniversary of LA) and its results.


Still to Locke [ca. Oct 30, 1941] Thank you for sending the program of the concert and is looking forward to receiving a recording of the performance.


Still to Locke [ca. Feb 10 1943] Re: To inform Locke of the recording of his Afro-American Symphony by the Vienna Opera directed by Dr. Karl Krueger. It also includes several of Still's piano works played by Gordon Manley.


Still to Locke Nov. 19, 1944 Re: Reply to letter of Nov. 13. Thanks Locke for comments on "Old California performed by Monteux. Does not care for Louise Burge personally or musically. He was not satisfied with her performance of the "Lynching" piece and she offended him and Stokowski on a visit, and is aware that Locke and Mrs. Biddle think very highly of her. States that he does not know White but that Stokowski would probably consider her.


Still to Locke N.D. Re: Thanks for the programs. Mrs. Biddle wrote that you like the music.


Still to Locke N.D. Re: Moving and getting material for the ballet.

Still to Carl Van Vechten


Still to Carl Van Vechten April 7, 1949 Re; Reply to Van Vechten's April 1 letter and thanking him for his encouragement. Still explains his choice for director and his reasons.

Still to Burch


Still To Charles Burch July 8, 1937 Re: Thinks that his accomplishments should be made known to the public.


Still to Charles Burch Oct 3 1937 1604 West 35th Place Los Angeles Cal. Re: Friendly correspondence mentions that Todd Duncan had been there and had mentioned Burch and sang parts of Still's opera. Tells him to spread the word concerning a broadcast over CBS of Lenox Avenue for the second time on "Everybody's Music."


Still to Charles Burch July 8 1938 Re: Received a card from Burch from Scotland just as Nimrod Allen paid Still a visit from Columbus. They were both wondering why Burch has not received the widespread publicity in the US that he deserved. Working on a new opera. New address Box 97 Station d Los Angeles.


Still to C. Burch Sep 5 1938 Box 79 Station D LA Re: Congratulates Burch on his fruitful stay in Scotland and for the recognition in scholarly sources, sorry that public recognition has not been forthcoming. Mentions preparing for a conducting appearance with the San Diego Symphony Orchestra.


Still to Burch March 26, 1940 Re: Basic communication, lets Burch know that Dr. Bousefield of the Rosenwald Foundation had dinner with them and that Burch and his accomplishments came up in the conversation, but he wished that he had the facts concerning his Yale University lecture and the Review of English Studies article.


Still to Burch Nov 2, 1940 Re: Explaining how Sgt Brice has made arrangements for him to go to Howard and his negative feelings concerning such an offer.


Still to Burch Jan 16, 1941 Re: Burch's essays and Sgt. Brice photograph received.


Still to Burch Jan 20 1941 Re: Thanks for advice concerning Howard and how Burch's and Brice's views of the position do not coincide.


Still to C. Burch [ca. Mar 3, 1943] Re: Wanting to write to the University at Berkeley and recommending Burch. He is also sending a copy of the article from Opportunity.


Still to C. Burch Sep 18 1943 Re: Congratulation on the PhD for Mrs. Burch and information concerning their children as well as their feelings and involvement in racial matters.


Still to Burch [ca. June 15, 1944?] Re: Thank you for sending a copy of "Defoe and His Northern Printers" and to express surprise that no word has come regarding the Univ. of Calif.


Still to Burch Jan 7 1945 Re: Glad to hear from him. Glad his studies are to be published and Verna will write about them when they appear. Will try to go East for the opera with the children. Has heard from Dean Lawson [Warner] and judges from his letters that he is a fine person and from his record an excellent musician and thinks Howard is fortunate to have him.


Still to Burch Feb 14 1945 Re: Glad to hear that he is being considered for a position at USC and what he is trying to do in order to speak on his behalf. The opera has been postponed till Fall.


Still to Burch April 5, 1946 Re: Still letting him know about his interested in the USC post and gardening.

Verna Arvey to Burch


Verna Arvey Still to Burch Dec 27, 1941 Re: To ask Burch if he would consent to being included in an article about racial discrimination and Negro Life in the US which will include 6 to 8 "outstanding colored people".


Verna to Burch Feb 4 1942 Re: To inform Charles that the article will not appear.


Verna Arvey to Burch [ca. Aug 13 1942] Informing Burch of an article in the August 1942 issue of Opportunity about him.


Verna Still to [Charles Burch ca. Aug 26, 1942]. Re: Announcement of upcoming birth. Glad that he and Mrs Burch enjoyed the article and the Stokowski broadcast.

Verna Arvey to Carl Van Vechten


Vera Arvey to Carl Van Vechten (from Yale Library) Nov 13 1942 Re: Information concerning Kaintuck that Van Vechten requested.

Verna Arvey to Locke


Verna to Locke September 14, 1944 Re: Thanks for autograph copy of "The Negro in the Caribbean." News that Stokowski will do the opera [Troubled Island] this season in New York. PS states "If the opera production goes through according to present plans it will be the biggest thing for Negro culture that has ever been attempted here or abroad. He is not only going to show the world that Negroes can sing such music, but that Negroes can create such music, and such fine poetry.

Alain Locke to Still


Alain Locke July 8, 1927 Re: States that pressure has kept him from meeting him while in New York that he has been following his work. He introduces the ideal of working on an African Ballet with the libretto by Mr. Bruce [the beginning of Sahdji] LS002

Locke May 15 1928 Re: Locke writes back and gives encouragement and information concerning the characters and translations of certain words.


Alain Locke Feb 1933? Thinks Still's music is more moving in the folk idiom rather than the modernistic vein (..."at my ear at any rate").


Locke March 14 1937 Re: Speaks about his book Negro and His Music and Still's successes with his radio performance of his symphony and Kaintuck and the upcoming radio performance of Lenox Ave. Asked what Still thinks about Sesana's Negro Heaven? LS005

Alain Locke Dec 20 [1937] Re: Congratulations on the new symphony that Locke heard in Philadelphia. Refers to Downes review and thinks that it is just the negative traits that Downes brings out, i.e. lack of development that are its strong traits. Also mentions Lenox Ave.


Alain Locke August 9 1939 Re: Letter begins with several issues including the development of black musicians and school such as Fisk or Howard. Ideas for setting Mrs. Biddle's (Katharine Garrison Chapin) poem on lynching [And They Lynched Him On a Tree] to music and informs him that Mrs. Biddle will get in touch with him. He also mentions that the brother-in-law George Biddle is the unpublicized friend responsible for the federal art idea with Mr. Roosevelt.


Locke July 2 1940 Re: Feelings on the performance of the Biddle work. Felt that the Talbert chorus was better than the Schola Cantorum but also felt the differences in timbres were appropriate to the drama of the work.


Locke to Still Sep 16 194?(0) Re: Permission to reprint article and the Howard position.


Locke Dec 10 [1940] Comments on the benefit performance of the Ballad. Sorry that the Library of Congress Concert fell through for Still. Locke still believes that Still and Howard would both benefit from his coming there.


Locke [ca. Jan 1941] Re: Library of Congress exhibit and meeting with the Roosevelts and sending songs for Dorothy Maynor. Locke is opposed to the idea of White serving as Dean.


Locke July 8, 1941 Re: References to the war its effect on black Americans and their response. Commencement and the honorary doctorate given to Still in absentia. Mentions that Robeson was in fine form and then the remark that he often isn't. Suspects that he is under a "good new coach."


Locke Aug 31 1941 Chicago Re: Reply to Still's letter of July 13 Locke expresses his desire that Negroes recognize the significance of the times and open their eyes which is their job. He also congratulates Still on the up coming premiere of the Biddle collaboration on Oct 22 and plans to be there. Locke also tells of his own difficulties dealing with artist in an upcoming gallery exhibit. A Mrs Logan was appointed to the Rockefeller Committee instead of Locke [which he was expecting].


Locke Oct 13 1941 Re: Looking forward to the performance on the 23rd [22nd was mentioned in his last letter]. Hopes that Still and Verna can both come but encourages Still to come alone if he has to. Suggest flying but does not like to himself unless if he has to.


Locke Nov 14, 1941 Feelings about the Oct concert and the critic's response.


Locke Aug 28 [1943] Re: Thank you for the being instrumental in the Utah invitation.


Locke Nov 13 1944 Re: Congratulations on the opera booking with Stokowski. Mentions Louise Burge as a possibility for the contralto role. Or Portia White whom Locke describes as a phenomenon.


Locke Dec 24 [?] {1945} Re: Mrs. Biddle told him of a successful performance and how Lawson seems to be doing but everyone seem to face interruptions of the war.


Locke to Still Oct 30 [1946??] This letter has been misdated!!! Re: The Howard interest in Still becoming Dean and the Library of Congress 75th anniversary concert.


Locke to Still May 31, 1949 Re: Apologies for delay. Had another attack and several days in the hospital. Enjoyed the opera wished that there was more native and primitive rhythm in the folk scenes and choruses. Regrets having lost contact in recent years.


Locke to Still N.D. Needs to get in touch with him for information concerning Sahdji will probably leave Washington at the end of next week the 31st. Needs address and phone number.


Locke to Still Sunday N.D. Thanks for what appears to be advice concerning Locke's health.


Locke to Still July 27 19?? Re; Thanks for card. Glad he got word while he was in Haiti. Locke found friend's lost MS.


Locke to Still Postcard from Haiti May 3 19(43?) Locke on a 3 month exchange is glad to include Still in his lectures.


Locke to Still N.D. Re: Congratulations, social significance, has written Verna concerning her manuscript. Knows he must finish the opera but has ideas on a pantomime ballet on Uncle Remus.

LS025 N.D. [Soon After Sahdji 1930?]

Locke to Still Sunday N.D. Congratulations on a real triumph [Sahdji] Sorry that he and Bruce did not make it. Knows that there will be other performances. Locke has another idea which would incorporate African and American elements and could be worked out by the three of them (Locke, Bruce and Still).

Locke to Verna Arvey


Locke to Verna Arvey April 12 {1942 handwritten} Re: Broadcast of Biddle collaboration of Tuesday the 14th and Sunday the 19th with Stokowski. Plain Chant to be re-arranged for a small orchestra by Cooke. That he must return her manuscript.

Carl Van Vechten to Verna


Carl Van Vechten to Verna Arvey April 27, 1939 Re: Thanks for sending a copy of her study on the work of William Grant Still. Hope that Still has not forgotten that he promised to sit for a photograph.


Carl Van Vechten to Verna Arvey Jan 16, 1942 Re: Carl is working on the James Weldon Johnson collection to be housed at Yale and wants contributions from Still. He still wants Still to sit for a photograph.


Carl Van Vechten to Verna Arvey Jan 27, 1942 Re: A warm thank you for Sahdji being sent to the collection at Yale. Carl also informs Verna of other works of Still that are already present, Dismal Swamp, and Twelve Negro Spirituals (illustrated by Barbelle).


Carl Van Vechten to V. A. July 1, 1942 Re: That Mr. Knopf will look at her manuscript, and grateful for the programs that she sends from time to time.


Carl Van Vechten to V.A. July 22, 1942 Re: Assuring that Locke and Richard Bruce have not written in the score of Sahdji but have written letter regarding their collaboration which have been placed in the box with the score.


Carl Van Vechten to V A August 17 1942 Re: More items that she has sent to the Yale collection and a question concerning the identity of the laughing Negro in the checked suit.


Carl Van Vechten to V A Sep 26, 1942 Re: Congratulations on birth and sorry that Knopf did not accept the book.


Carl Van Vechten to V. A. Oct 23, 1942 Re: The Yale collection and the missing score of Kaintuck.


Carl Van Vechten to V. A. November 9, 1942 Re: Kaintuck arrived today needs information about it.


Carl Van Vechten to V. A. Nov 25 1942 Re: thank you for the message that the Stills sent for his dinner. Wants to know if they know Duke Ellington? He wants a manuscript but the Duke does not answer his letters.


Carl Van Vechten to V. A. Postcard Nov 29, 1942 Thanks for more programs.


Carl Van Vechten to V A January 26, 1943 Re: Carl followed a suggestion by Verna but The Duke will not give any materials. He hopes that she will remain true to the Johnson Collection even though other colleges are starting collections.


Carl Van Vechten to V. A. March 29, 1943 To inform the Stills that he heard Plain Chant for America performed by the Philadelphia but did not like the singing of baritone James Pease whose diction was very poor.


Carl Van Vechten to V. A. April 2, 1943 Re: Wants a copy of a painting of Still. Gives reason for the book on Negro dance not being accepted because of a lack of market.


Carl Van Vechten Sep 13, 1943 Re: Encouraging Verna after receiving a rejection from Knopf. He goes on to say how Rudyard Kipling got such letters and how Walter White had invited him to his house to hear a young singer and to give his opinion. " I did 'She has a good voice but she sings with so little feeling I should advise her to take up some other line. I do not see how she can ever make a success.' The singer was Marian Anderson!" CVV016

Carl Van Vechten Postcard to V.A. 12-1943 Re: Question about a term "tone Parallel" and its connection. He has asked several people including Virgil Thomson, who doubts if it is a technical term.


Carl Van Vechten to V.A. Jan 2, 1944 Re: the idea of sending a collection of music under the name of Gershwin to Fisk. Very detailed in his philosophical reasons.


Carl Van Vechten to V.A. Feb 15, 1944 Re: Thanks for the letter and more information on the preparations of the Fisk collection.


Carl Van Vechten to V.A. Mach 2, 1944 Fisk collection and the Time magazine article of March 6 page 75 that covers it.


Carl Van Vechten to V. A. April 3 1944 Re: The Fisk collection is still growing thanks to the efforts of the Still. There are 61 celebrated Negroes in a show that is going to open in Harlem. Carl wants to know if he will ever have a chance to photograph Still.


Carl Van Vechten to V.A. Postcard pm June 2, 1944 Re: Thanks CVV022

Carl Van Vechten to V.A. July 6, 1944 Re: Thanks for the Highlights on the Life of Still by Westerman and for the mention in a recent article in Opportunity regarding to the collection. Darius Milhaud and Leonard Bernstein have made contributions. Mr. Meyer Davis has given letters of Beethoven and Liszt as well as a Mendelssohn manuscript. He still wants to photograph Still.


Carl Van Vechten to V.A. Sep 22, 1944 Re: An apparent enclosure concerning the opera and the hope that he will get a chance to photograph Still.


Carl Van Vechten to VA Nov 10, 1944 Re: excited about Troubled Island and news about the Fisk collection.


Carl Van Vechten to V.A. Dec 7 1944 Re: Comments and suggestions concerning an outline on a book about dance. Asked if the Stills are aware of Portia White and that she is interested in doing the opera. Copland has arranged for all of the publications of the Arrow music press to go to Fisk. "All will be inscribed, with a bar or two of quoted music, by the composer." CVV026

Carl Van Vechten to VA Dec 22, 1944 Re: To report on a recital given by Muriel Rahn at Wadleigh High school where she sang two Still songs "Breath of a Rose" and "Winter's Approach." CVV027

Van Vechten to Verna Postcard August 19, 1949 Re: Thanks for the article which goes to Yale. Van Vechten identifies the photo as Juanita Hall in South Pacific.


Van Vechten to Verna Aug 5, 1954 Thanks for letter and information.


Van Vechten to Verna Nov 28, 1960 Re: About a record number and company which he has ordered. Nora brought a group of singers to see the collection and they were amazed and delighted to see the material Still had been sending, they included Carol Brice, Camilla Williams, Margaret Tynes, Charlotte Holoman, William Warfield, Laurence Winters, Margaret Bonds and several others.


Van Vechten to Verna Oct 21, 1961 Re: Thanks for the music. George Shirley and Leontyne Price have made tremendous success. "The Negro is forging ahead with giant strides." CVV031

Van Vechten to Verna Nov 1, 1961 Re: Thanks for Miami Beach program.


Van Vechten to Verna March 15, 1962 Re: Thanks for continuing to support Yale.


Van Vechten to Verna July 31 1963 Re: Thanks CVV034

Van Vechten to Verna Dec 31 1963 Re: Thanks Carl Van Vechten to Still


Carl Van Vechten to Still March 17 1938 Re: A short note thanking Still for his comments on Nigger Heaven and complimenting Still on his music.


Carl Van Vechten to Still Dec 5 1938 Re: Setting time to meet and photograph Still.


Carl Van Vechten to Still July 1939 Re: Condolences concerning Still's opera. Langston did not tell me when he was here. Gives possible reasons for rejection.


Carl Van Vechten Post Card PM 9 Feb 1942 Re: Thanks for the programs sent to the James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection at Yale.


Carl Vechten May 16 1943 Postcard Re: Thanks for program of concert in Philadelphia of a group of Still songs. And wants to know if "Breath of a Rose" with Langston's words published and information concerning Telwa? Watson Duke?


Carl Van Vechten to Still November 7, 1943 Re: Thanks for more material and a description of some current artistic events and a party given by Nora Holt.


Carl Van Vechten to Still Dec [15] 1945 Re: Thanks for copy of ?[illustration] with Dunbar in it for Yale.


Carl Van Vechten to Still Dec 26 1945 Re: Many thanks for the material sent for Yale. Expresses his feelings on how important this was for future generations.


Carl Van Vechten to Still Feb 24, 1946 Re: Enclosed information concerning Ulysses Kay and his work on the Yale collection and his upcoming photograph spread in Ebony. He regrets that Still is not included but adds that it is not his fault.


Carl Van Vechten to Still Sep 8 1946 Thanks for the Twenty-ninth Psalm and that Kay and Phippa Schuyler have made contributions to the collection.


Carl Van Vechten to Still Nov 12 1946 Re: Regret that he will not be able to come to Fisk but happy for the three honors that he is receiving. "Have your read Color Blind? Southern Exposure?" CVS012

Carl Van Vechten to Still Jan 29, 1947 Re: Thanks for the magazine story about you and the picture of you and your family. Nora Holt being elected a member of the critics' circle on her own merit and the upcoming Fisk Festival. Street Scene with Langston [Hughes] and Kurt Weill should be quite a success.


Carl Van Vechten to Still May 5 1947 Re: Thanks for new programs for Yale. Sorry that Still did not make it to Fisk.


Carl Van Vechten to Still May 15, 1947 Re: Thanks for sending the opera with a very interesting article.


Carl Van Vechten to Still postcard (postmarked) Aug 17 1947 "I like you care about musicians with political leanings very much indeed. Thank you for sending it to me. It will enable an important addition to the James Weldon Johnson Collection at Yale."


Carl Van Vechten to Still April 1, 1949 Re; A critical review of Still's opera including the performers, music and director. Carl felt that Langston's libretto would have been served better with more favorable direction. Wants Still to sit for another photography sessions. (Must have finally taken place during the performance of the opera)


Van Vechten to Still April 9, 1949 Re: Reply to still's April 7 letter and to continue to encourage him. Mentions that the color photos finally came in and that he had photographed Billie Holiday and Mrs. Bethune and he adds "NOT together." CVS017

Van Vechten to Still June 19, 1949 Re: Short note about Still pictures and projected opera.


Van Vechten to Still Feb 11, 1950. Re: News concerning the Yale show and is interested in news about new opera.


Van Vechten to Still April 2, 1950 Re: Thanks from himself and Yale for an inscribed copy of Mythologie Vodou.


Van Vechten to Still Postcard July 7, 1950 Re: Thanks for latest Curtis Batiam to the J. W. Johnson Collection.


Van Vechten to Still Postcard Nov 27, 1950 Re: Thanks for the article which he read with pleasure.


Van Vechten to Still Postcard May 25, 1952 Re: Thanks for reprint. Do you know Edith Sampson? CVS023

Van Vechten to Still Postcard July 29, 1960 Thanks for works list for Yale. Identifies Leontyne Price in the photo.


Van Vechten Postcard Sep 20 1960 Re: Thanks for letters McKim and recording of Sahdji.


Van Vechten to Stills June 10 1960 Thanks for the Boletin Interamericano de Musica. Signed "Prospective octogenarian." CVS026ND

Van Vechten to The Stills N.D. Re: Thanks for writing on interracial marriage. Thinks that this may be the solution to the "problem".


Van Vechten to Still N.D. Thanks for letter and program. Never heard Dunbar play the flute or conduct but has several of his printed programs in the collection.



Marya Freind June 17, 1924 Re: Thanking Still for songs which she will sing.


C. W. Spofford President of The Chicago North Shore Festival Association April 3, 1926 Re: To Still's composition "With God There is no Failure" to a competition. That it made the final five for consideration of the $1000 cash prize.


Charles ?Oconnell Editor Symphonic Contest Victor Talking Machine Division Sep 24, 1929 Re: To inform Still of the postponement of the date for announcing the winner of the Victor Symphonic Contest.


Verna To her Uncle Jack Oct 18 1929 [2633 West Seventeenth St.

Los Angeles] Re: seeking help in finding musical openings. She states that she had been playing piano at the movies but wanted to do bigger things.


Secretary to Jacob Arvey Oct 23 1929 responding to Verna's letter that her uncle is ill and will try to locate something as soon as he returns.


Jacob Arvey to Barney Balaban of 175 North State Street Chicago, Illinois Feb. 13 1930 asking for advice and connection in regards to his niece.


Mr. Stevens of C.C. Birchard & Company Publishers of Music Boston MA. Aug. 28 1930 Re: In regard to a spiritual that he sent and they going to use it in a school song book and will also publish it in Octavo. And arrangements concerning purchase or 10% royalty. The publishers prefer royalty.


Howard Hanson [Aug 1930] Thank you for the dedication of new ballet [Sahdji]


[Aug 1930] From ? to Still Re: Concerning a ballet that Still has delivered in manuscript which Hanson hasn't seen yet but will when he comes in. Also regarding the editing of a collection of spirituals with Paul Robeson. Signature? Gil Br ? ba


Still to Radiana Tazmor Feb. 16 1933 408 Manhattan Ave. N.Y. Re; Two songs which she is planning to perform.


Still to Miss [T?]azmor Concerning subsequent performances(from last year) of songs on Dec 6., and accompanist logistics (Letter not dated.)


Robert N. Dett to Verna Arvey April 1936 Re: Dett mentions his latest Anthem "Go Not Far From Me O God" and that he has added words to "Juba" from In the Bottoms.


Still to Harriet Marshall Washington Conservatory of Music Dec 29 1938 Box 97 Station D Los Angeles Re: Reply to letter concerning inclusion into some kind of anthology. Still gives his publishers information. Mentions a booklet that George Fisher is about to publish of his life and works. [typed by "ms"]


Bruce to Carl Van Vechten [1942?]

Copy of letter to Dr. I. O. Horsefall of University of Utah from M.H. Fleming Aug 5, 1943 Re: Suggesting that a representative of the Negro Race be included in the Master Mind Series possible suggestion Alain Locke or W. E. B. Dubois.


Telegram from Marie Powers April 12 1949 Re: Thanks and praise for opera.


Stills to Mr. and Mrs Martin (holiday letter) Feb 1973 Re; acknowledges Christmas cards and information concerning their lives, Verna's mother's passing as well as their son-in-law, the tributes paid to Billy and a vacation to the Caribbean.


Bruce to Van Vechten N.D. Re; Thanks for interest in Sahdji and his surprise to be included. Gives some indication to how rough his life has been and that Locke may be of more help.

Appendix 2
Langston Hughes Papers Correspondence (From Yale)
                     STILL, William Grant 1927-41

To: 29 / From: 0 (1-38 leaves) STILL, William Grant 1942-44

To: 18 / From: 1 (39-66 leaves) STILL, William Grant 1945-46

To: 13 / From: 2 (67-88 leaves) STILL, William Grant 1947

To: 17 / From: 2 (89-119 leaves) STILL, William Grant 1948 Jan-Jul

To: 8 / From: 5 (120-139 leaves) To: 12 / From: 5 (140-166 leaves) STILL, William Grant 1948 Aug-Dec STILL, William Grant 1949

To: 11 / From: 7 (167-189 leaves) STILL, William Grant 1955-63, n.d.

To: 16 / From: 2 (190-209 leaves) STILL, Mrs. William Grant 1936-49, n.d.

(Verna Arvey)

To: 6 / From: 1 (12 leaves)

Subject Index to the Letters
in the William Grant Still Collection

"Breath of a Rose" CVS005, CVV026

Afro-American Symphony SL025

And They Lynched Him On a Tree SL016, SL026, LS006, LS007

Barbirolli, John SL022, SL023

Bernstein, Leonard CVV022

Biddle, Katherine SL013, SL019, SL022, SL023, SL026, SL027, LS006, LS007, LS012, LS017, LV001

Bonds, Margaret CVV029

Bruce, R. LS001, LS024

Burge, Louise SL019 SL026, LS016

Burleigh, Harry T. SL021

Copland, Aaron CVV025

Davis, Meyer CVV022

Dixon, Dean SL021

Downes, Olin SL006, SL016, LS005

Fischer Publishing SL014, SL016

Fisk University LS006, CVV017, CVV018, CVV019, CVV020, CVV024, CVV025, CVS011, CVS012, CVS013

George Gershwin Collection CVV017, CVV018, CVV019, CVV020, CVV022, CVV025

Gilman, Lawrence SL010

Hanson, Howard SL003, SL004, M009

Hayes, Roland SL019

Holt, Nora CVV029, CVS006, CVS012

Howard University SL017, SL018, SL019, SL021, SB006, SBOO8, SB012, LS006, LS008, LS009, LS011, LS018

Hughes, Langston SL010, CVS003, CVS012, CVS016

James Weldon Johnson Collection CVVOO2, CVV006, CVV008, CVV011, CVV012, CVV027, CVV029, CVS004 CVS015, CVS020

Kaintuck VB002, VCV001, LS004, CVV008, CVV009

Kay, Ulysses CVS009

Krueger, Karl SL025

Lawson, Warner SB012, LS017

Lenox Avenue SB002, LS004, LS005

Library of Congress LS009, LS010, SL018

Manely, Gordon SL025

Maynor, Dorthy SL020

Milhaud, Darius CVV022

Nationalism in Music SL001, SL010, SL011, LS003, LS019

New York Philharmonic SL022

Nigger Heaven CVS001

Opportunity SL005, SL007, SL016, CVV022, SB009, VB003

Performances SL021, SB004, LS005 LS007, LS009, LS014, LS017, LS019

Pain Chant For America LV001, CVV013, SL022

Race Awareness SL012, SB010, VB001, VB002, LS012, CVS026

Racial Progress LS024, CVV030, SL023

Recordings SL024, SL025 LS019, LS024

Responses to Still's Music SL003, SL006, SL010, SL019, SL027, SCV001

Robeson, Paul SL005, LS011, VL001

Sahdji SL001, SL002, SL003, SL004, SL005, SL006, SL008, LS001, LS002, LS025, M008, M016, CVV005, LS020, LS024, CVV003

San Diego Symphony SB004

Schuyler, Phippa & Kay CVS010

Stokowski, Leopold VB004, LV001, SL026, VL001

Thomson, Virgil CVV016

Troubled Island SL010, VL001, LS019, CVV024, CVSOO3, CVS013, CVS014, CVS016, SCV001, LS016, LS019, SB013

Vienna Opera SL025

Weill, Kurt CVS012

White, Portia SL026, LS016, CVV025

White, Clarence SL019, LS010

White, Walter CVV015

Yale University SB005, VCV001, CVV002, CVV003, CVV006, CVV008, CVV027, CVV032, CVS004, CVS007, CVS008, CVS009, CVS013, CVS015, CVS018, CVS019, CVS023

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