William Grant Still papers, 1877-1992

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Still, William Grant, 1895-1978
12 Linear Feet
circa 2,250 Items
Collection ID:


Scope and content:

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.

Biographical / historical:
Date Event
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
Composed Kaintuck
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.

Acquisition information:
The William Grant Still Papers (1877-1992) were purchased by Duke University in 1992.
Processing information:

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

Physical location:
For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the Library's online catalog.
Rules or conventions:
Describing Archives: A Content Standard


Using These Materials

Using These Materials Links:

Using These Materials


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.

Terms of access:

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.

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