Free Concert Celebrates Mississippi Composer

William Grant Still is known as the dean of African-American composers

William Grant Still

OXFORD, Miss. – William Grant Still is known around the world for his significant contributions not only to African-American music, but to the American classical music cannon.

“The American South is blessed with rich African-American musical traditions, and though we immediately think of jazz and blues, we can also think of classical music,” said George Worlasi Kwasi Dor, professor of ethnomusicology at the University of Mississippi.

A concert celebrating Still, a native Mississippian, is set for 7:30 p.m. Tuesday (Feb. 19) in Nutt Auditorium. Free and open to the public, the concert is part of the university’s celebration of Black History Month.

The concert program, which focuses on Still’s instrumental music, features guest pianist Artina McCain, a performer and professor at the University of Memphis. The UM Symphonic Band, Fraternity String Quartet, UM Steel Orchestra, Ole Miss African Drum and Dance Ensemble, and faculty and student soloists also will perform.

Adrienne Park, UM instructor in music, will perform on piano as both a soloist and accompanist.

“In addition to presenting ‘Summerland’ as a solo piece, I’m looking forward to performing ‘Romance’ for saxophone and piano with Christopher Scott, and three arrangements of songs for trumpet and piano with Terrell McGowan entitled ‘Bayou Home,’ ‘If You Should Go’ and ‘Song for the Lonely,'” Park said. “It has been an invigorating experience working with these two dedicated individuals in preparation for this important event in our department.”

Although he drew from global influences, Still’s work is deeply situated in the American South, in its ecology and in the experience and culture of African-Americans.

“That’s why people talk about the historicity of his work,” Dor said. “His compositions reflect the events and experience of his day, and we can see how he also used music to construct his own identity.”

“His work is really beautiful and really Southern,” added Jiwon Lee, a graduate student from Oxford who will be performing on both flute and violin. “He uses lots of flats and sharps, which gives his music a different feel than the Western art music we normally hear as ‘classical.’ Still’s music references Southern traditions.”

Besides performing at the Tuesday evening concert, McCain also will present a workshop on Still’s piano repertoire and its relationship to the work of other 20th century African-American composers. Part lecture and part performance, the free workshop is slated for 1 p.m. Tuesday in Nutt Auditorium.

“Dr. McCain is a rising star both as a performer and as a scholar in the area of African-American classical composers,” Dor said. “We are delighted to bring her to campus.”

When Antonin Dvorak came to America at the turn of the century, he famously commented that African-American spirituals and melodies supplied all that is needed for a “great and noble school of composition to be developed in the United States.” Still’s works proves the truth of that idea, Dor said.

The concert is co-sponsored by the UM departments of Music and African American Studies; offices of the Chancellor, Provost and Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Community Engagement; College of Liberal Arts; Center for the Study of Southern Culture; and Office of Global Engagement.