William Grant Still’s career was comprised of many ‘firsts’. He was the first African American composer to have a symphony performed by a professional orchestra in the U.S., the Symphony no. 1 ‘Afro-American’ (1930). It was premiered by Howard Hanson and the Rochester Philharmonic. The piece’s New York premiere was given by the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall in 1935. He also became the first African American to conduct a major symphony orchestra in the United States when he led the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1936. In the world of opera, his Troubled Island was the first by an African American to be performed by a major opera company (New York City Opera, 1949) and that same opera was the first by an African American to be nationally televised.
William Grant Still has been called the dean of African American composers. Throughout his distinguished career he composed in many styles, frequently utilizing black motifs. He composed more than 150 works, including five symphonies and eight operas.
The William Grant Still Community Arts Center was dedicated in Los Angeles shortly before Still’s death, and a memorial concert featuring his key compositions was presented at the University of Southern California in May 1979. Still’s accomplishments clearly placed him among the foremost composers of his day.