Women's Activism NYC

Margaret Bonds

1913 - 1972

By: Teri Graham | Date Added:

Born in Chicago in 1913 to an activist family, Margaret Bonds began her studies with the best of Bronzeville… composers Florence Beatrice Price and William Levi Dawson. She completed bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Northwestern University in piano and composition but didn’t wait until she was finished to start making a splash… winning the national Wanamaker Foundation Prize in composition and becoming the first black to solo with the Chicago Symphony… on one of those occasions premiering her teacher Florence Price’s Piano Concerto. In Chicago she performed and taught, opening the Allied Arts Academy, and composed songs, one of which ("Peach Tree Street") was used in the film Gone with the Wind. In 1939 she became part of New York City’s Harlem Renaissance, where she edited, wrote tunes for popular songs, debuted on piano at Town Hall, began the Margaret Bonds Chamber Society (which performed works by Black classical composers), and studied at Juilliard with Roy Harris. Bonds had an especial affinity for poet Langston Hughes. She had first found his poems in the basement of the Evanston, Illinois Library, and in Harlem they became frequent collaborators: on many song settings, theater pieces such as Shakespeare in Harlem, and her most famous work, the Christmas cantata The Ballad of the Black King… a telling of the story of the wise man Balthazar at the Nativity. She would also write song cycles, ballets, a mass, and the Montgomery Variations for orchestra: variations on a spiritual in memory of the Bus Boycotts and of the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. Bonds then moved to the west coast, teaching music at the Los Angeles Inner City Institute and Cultural Center, passing unexpectedly in 1972 just after her 59th birthday.

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