On this week in 1949, the New York City Opera premiered “Troubled Island” by the composer and Woodville, Mississippi native William Grant Still. This marked the first time a major American opera company had ever presented the work of an African-American composer.
But this was only one of many “firsts” for Still. He was also the first African-American to conduct a major U.S. orchestra, and the first to have his works performed across the country by major opera companies and orchestras.
A wide-ranging artist, Still composed not only eight operas and five symphonies, but also the scores to major motion pictures, early television shows, and radio programs. He also delved into popular music, creating arraignments for the likes of W.C. Handy and Paul Whiteman.
He was honored with two Guggenheim awards and numerous honorary doctorates. Today he is recognized as the “Dean of African-American Composers.”
For more interesting facts about Mississippi's 200-year history, watch a new interstitial each week of 2017 with Mississippi: A Thread Through Time on MPB Television.