With a Playlist

Before 1934, Margaret Bonds publicly performed only all-White recitals. After 1934, she never did that again. Why the change?

In the Summer of 2019 I made my first (ten years’ belated) trip to the Deering Library at Northwestern University to examine that library’s archival holdings pertaining to Margaret Bonds. Charla Burlenda Wilson, Northwestern University’s Inaugural Archivist for the Black Experience, was incredibly helpful in preparing the materials and answering questions along the way. …


Langston Hughes’s relationship with the Christian church was . . . complicated. Except that it wasn’t. While he acknowledged that the Black church was an organizational pillar of the African American community and embraced the resultant sense of community solidarity, he was well aware that Christianity was the professed religion of the cross-burning Ku Klux Klan, and of racists and segregationists generally. Looking at the virulent racism of the world around him and the White church’s complicity in the oppression of Black folk, he was convinced that the salvation Christianity offered the world was for the White world only, not…


A Song Lyric by Margaret Bonds

Margaret Bonds traveled nearly constantly in her adult life. Even though she maintained a single address in New York from 1940 until her move to Los Angeles in 1967, she toured constantly as a pianist and public speaker, often performing her own compositions as soloist, duo-pianist, and collaborative pianist, in recital halls and night clubs. Even after she moved to Los Angeles, starting anew after separating from her husband and after the death of Langston Hughes, she was constantly on the move, with frequent trips to the Bay area and elsewhere — likewise as soloist, collaborative pianist, and composer and…


MARGARET BONDS, EDNA ST. VINCENT MILLAY, AND LANGSTON HUGHES*

  • (WITH A CAMEO BY DEBUSSY AND PIERRE LOUŸS)

The long, close, and miraculously productive collaborative friendship between Margaret Bonds and Langston Hughes is well known. Late in life Bonds recalled how Hughes’s seminal poem The Negro Speaks of Rivers had “helped save [her]” during her difficult years as a student at Northwestern University. The two met in 1936 at the home of noted ceramicist Tony Hill (1908–75), and not long thereafter later Hughes persuaded Bonds to relocate to New York. There they lived only a few blocks apart, but because they were both busy and traveled frequently, they corresponded prolifically…


YESTERDAY I LEARNED that Elaine Fine, whose arrangement of the now-quite-popular Adoration for violin or viola with piano remains the finest of the many arrangements of that piece, has done a new and very beautiful arrangement of another work by Florence Price: the Thumbnail Sketches of a Day in the Life of a Washerwoman, for piano solo. It’s a short suite, but a rich and fascinating one that in some ways teaches more about Florence Price than the familiar litany of facts that suffices in most accounts of her work (I’ll come back to that point).

The work was probably…


This post is a short one, but I hope you’ll find it interesting.

In an earlier post I remarked that Florence Price had submitted all four of her Fantasies nègres for piano solo to the 1932 Wanamaker competition — the competition in which the first version of her Fourth (B-minor) Fantasie nègre won honorable mention. That statement was incorrect.

In fact, Price submitted only the Second, Third, and Fourth Fantasies nègres to that competition. This we can say with confidence because the upper right-hand corners of the first pages of those fantasies’ autographs bear pencil numbering not in Price’s handwriting…


Gustavo Dudamel to Conduct Margaret Bonds’s Montgomery Variations in July, 2021

This past weekend was filled with plenty of grim news – the stuff that headlines are made of.

But amidst that distressing din there were also some most welcome tidings: on July 15, 2021 Maestro Gustavo Dudamel will conduct the Los Angeles Philharmonic in a new performance of “excerpts” from Margaret Bonds’s 1964 masterpiece, The Montgomery Variations — a set of programmatic variations on the spiritual “I Want Jesus to Walk with Me,” scored for large orchestra and lasting about twenty-three minutes in its entirety. Bonds wrote a detailed program for the piece, explaining how specific events in the Civil…


In life and in their contemporary and posthumous receptions, the color line profoundly separated Margaret Bonds (1913–72) and Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892–1950). This would not have been lost on Margaret Bonds — but her six recently published songs on sonnets by Millay demonstrate that she also recognized that their spirits were in many ways alike. They were both brilliant feminists, both iconoclastic, both deeply committed to using their art in the service of social justice. Millay’s poems are suffused with musical references, and Bonds’s music reveals that she was a voracious and extraordinarily astute reader of poetry.

I recently…


Florence Price’s First Symphony, the 1933–34 World’s Fair, and Three Tribbles [corrected]

In Part 1 of this three-part post, I suggested that even though the June 15, 1933 premiere of Florence Price’s First Symphony was important, the familiar narrative portraying the symphony as a triumph and the (implicit) centerpiece of the program is not quite true and has eclipsed the Fair’s celebration of deeply offensive racist stereotypes. …


Updated: a minute ago

Florence Price’s First Symphony, the 1933–34 World’s Fair, and Three Tribbles

In the first part of this post I talked about the context for the premiere of Florence Price’s First Symphony. That premiere was part of a concert themed “The Negro in Music” and offered by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Music Director Frederick Stock on June 15, 1933. As I noted there, it was a milestone in many ways — and in latter-day commentaries on Price it’s often the only part of her professional biography that is mentioned with any specificity, eclipsing the extraordinary two subsequent decades of her creative life.

But in…

John Michael Cooper

A musicologist with a passion for social justice, bringing unheard music to life for performers and listeners, and teaching.

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