Margaret Bonds received great acclaim during her lifetime as a composer, pianist, and teacher. She was the first black soloist to perform with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1933, an event that has been chronicled as one of the historic moments of black pride in American history. Ironically, she seems to have been denied the credit for her most famous work of arranging and song-writing, the gospel hymn "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands." This song is known around the world, has been performed countless times, and is considered by most listeners to be "just" a traditional song. Not so. The arrangement of the song that is commonly performed is an arrangement that is lock, stock, and Bonds'.
She also wrote for choir, orchestra, and piano as well as songs in both the popular and art genres. She was at the heart of the great developments in black classical music through three decades beginning in the '20s, that term meant to encompass jazz as well as gospel and classical music. She might not have kept "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands" in her hands, but most of her catalogue of compositions is easy to acquire in published forms. Her most famous cycle of art songs is the "Three Dream Portraits, based on the poetry by Langston Hughes and first published in 1959.A native of Chicago, Bonds grew up in a home visited by many of the leading black intellectuals of the era; among houseguests were soprano Abbie Mitchell and composers Florence Price and Will Marion Cook.
Bonds began her musical studies with her mother, Estella C. Bonds and showed an early aptitude for composition, writing her first work, Marquette Street Blues, at the age of five. She continued to study piano with Florence B. Price and composition with William Dawson, completing both a bachelor's and master's degree at Northwestern University at 21 years old. She then went on to the Juilliard School, where she studied with Tobert Storer, Henry Levine, Roy Harris, and Emerson Harper.
Upon her high school graduation, Bonds became one of the few black students at Northwestern University. Her song "Sea-Ghost" won a Wanamaker Award in 1932; two years later, at the age of 21, she left Northwestern with a bachelor's and master's degree, both in music. She opened a short-lived school, the Allied Arts Academy, at which she taught art, music, and ballet.
he performed as a pianist with numerous local organizations, appearing in 1933 with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and performing Florence Price's piano concerto with the Women's Symphony Orchestra of Chicago the following year. In 1939 she moved to New York City; there, she edited music for a living and collaborated on several popular songs.
That same year, an adaptation of "Peach Tree Street" appeared in Gone With the Wind. The latter song, based on a popular Atlanta thoroughfare, was recorded by Louis Armstrong and Woody Herman, among others. In 1940 Bonds married a probation officer named Lawrence Richardson; the couple later had a daughter.
Among Bonds' works from the 1950s is The Ballad of the Brown King, a large-scale work originally for voice and piano, but later revised for chorus, soloists, and orchestra. The piece was first performed in December 1954 in New York. Bonds was writing other works during this period of her career, as well; her Three Dream Portraits for voice and piano, again setting Hughes' poetry, were published in 1959; her D Minor Mass for chorus and organ was first performed in the same year.
(Compiled and edited from Wikipedia and mainly an AllMusic Bio by Eugene Chadbourne)
She was both a respected performing pianist and teacher in Chicago and New York through the mid-'60s, her students including the composer Ned Rorem, among many others. In 1967, she relocated to Los Angeles, where she began working on film music and with the Inner City Institute and Repertory Theatre. Hughes was her greatest collaborator. The two worked on a series of songs and musical theatre works including the musical Shakespeare in Harlem and the cantata "Ballad of the Brown King."
She received the Northwestern University alumni medal in
1967. Her "Credo" for baritone, chorus, and orchestra was performed
by the Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra conducted by Zubin Mehta shortly after
her death in 1972.
|Margaret with Eartha Kitt|
Here’s a clip of “Over My Head & You Can Tell The World”, arr. Margaret Bonds. Performed on April 22, 2017, by Andrew J. Darling, countertenor, and Michael S. Caldwell, piano, at the John J. Cali School of Music, Montclair State University. Recorded and edited by Rodney Leinberger.