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William Grant Still was born May 11 1895 in Woodville Mississippi to Carrie Lena Still and William Grant Still Stills father died when he was only a few months old so the family moved to Little Rock Arkansas His mother remarried a few years later to Charles B Shepperson Both his mother and stepfather were interested in music and encouraged their children as well Still began his musical education taking violin lessons and listening to opera recordings bought by his stepfather The musical influence of his childhood greatly affected his musical path to success during the mid-1900s Still attended Wilberforce University in 1911 as a pre-medical student Students usually participated in musical activities for cultural and entertainment value Gibson It was highly unusual for them to pursue music as a career especially as African-Americans Due to racism African Americans were given limited performance opportunities Stills mother did not want him to pursue a musical career Still became more involved in music at Wilberforce he decided to pursue a career in music As an adult he taught himself to play the clarinet saxophone string bass viola cello and oboe Gibson Although he did not learn to play all of these well enough to be able to perform on them he knew of their capabilities this knowledge would be very useful as he began to write instrumental music Gibson In 1918 Still joined the United States Navy and served in World War I Boyd After his discharge from the Navy he worked for W C Handy and composed his first band arrangements St Louis Blues and Beale Street Blues Boyd St Louis Blues was written to be played by a military band In 1931 his most popular work was published Afro-American Symphony Through this work Still stated the significance and meaning of being an African American in the United States Gibson It was the first major piece by an African American that allowed non-white composers to advance
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