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Lesser-Known Composer of the Month: Margaret Bonds

Each month the Allen Music Library highlights an oft-forgotten composer (from the slightly off mainstream to the obscure) represented in our collections, along with short profiles of lesser-known performers, musical scholars, or other musicians.

Performances in the Wild

Streaming Audio Highlights

Margaret Bonds (1913-1972)

Wait, Who?

Margaret Allison Bonds was a composer, pianist, and teacher from Chicago.  Her early studies with her mother, who attended the Chicago Musical College, led to tuition in piano and composition with Florence Price and others in high school, followed by study at Northwester Univeristy, where she obtained her  BM and MM in music in 1933 and 1934. She also did graduate work at Juilliard, where she returned several times for various courses throughout her life.

As a student at Northwestern she encountered significant prejudice and discrimination for the first time, but took comfort from her discovery of the poetry of Langston Hughes.  She later set many of his poems and corresponded with him extensively.  It was around the same time she acquired a young Ned Rorem as a piano student; he later cited her as an important influence and the two remained close.

In the 1940s she moved to New York and remained there until the late 1960s; while there she assumed active leadership roles in numerous church, choral, musical theater, and other musical associations.  She took additional courses in composition and choral conducting at Juilliard and had hoped to study with Nadia Boulanger, but Boulanger told her she had no need to study with anyone.

In 1967, after the death of Langston Hughes, she accepted an invitation to join the Los Angeles Inner City Cultural Center and Repertory Theater and spent the last five years of her life there.  Bonds struggled with depression and alcoholism, particularly in her final years; she died of a heart attack at age 59.

Brief Bibliography

In the Library

Works in Brief

Bonds was primarily a vocal composer; her many works for solo voice include both art and popular songs, as well as numerous arrangments of spirituals, which also informed her large-scale works for chorus or voice and orchestra.  These included several cantatas, a Mass, and a Credo.

Her dramatic works include incidental music for numerous, stage plays in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, a ballet, and a children's operetta.

The relatively small amound of instrumental music she wrote also shows the influence of spirituals, especially the Spiritual Suite for solo piano, written in the 1950s, and the Montgomery Variations for orchestra, written in 1965 in response to the March on Montgomery.

Associate Music Cataloger

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Laura Gayle Green
Allen Music Library
College of Music, FSU
122 N. Copeland St.
Tallahassee, FL 32306
Website Skype Contact: lauragayle
Subjects: Music

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