WorldView Episode 07: Margaret Bonds

Margaret Bonds was born in Chicago in 1931 to a church musician and Civil Rights activist. She grew up in her mother’s house, where she met several prominent Black artists of the time, including Abbie Mitchell and Lillian Evanti. These interactions influenced many of her compositions, and guided her career towards collaborations with writers of the time, including Langston Hughes. She began composing before age five, and studied music with Florence Beatrice Price, another recurring figure in her childhood home (Price was featured in the first episode of WorldView). Bonds studied at Northwestern University—one of only a handful of students of color in her class—and used music and poetry as a counter point to its discriminatory environment. 

Bonds eventually moved to New York and began giving regular performances of “popular” music at night clubs, as well as experimenting with song writing. She soon joined the East Side Housing Settlement Program, a non-profit that provided arts experience and education to underprivileged youth, and taught piano and music classes. Bonds also promoted other African American artists in New York by sponsoring concerts and curating exhibitions of visual and written works. 

Margaret Bonds met and befriended Langston Hughes in the 1930s, and soon began putting his works to music. She orchestrated his Shakespeare in Harlem opera, as well as poems Songs of the Seasons, Simon Bore the Cross, and Three Dream Portraits. After Hughes’s death in 1967, Bonds left New York to move to Los Angeles, where she remained until her death in 1972.  She remains best remembered for her arrangements of African American spirituals, as well as her work championing the voices of other Black artists of the mid-20th century. Episode seven of WorldView features her work Troubled Water, written in 1967 and performed by Joel Fan. 

WorldView Episode Seven Playlist:

Margaret BONDS, “Troubled Water”, {Joel Fan} – Reference Recordings 

Warren BARKER, “Capriccio for Saxophone Quartet and Band”, {Indiana State University Wind Orchestra, John Boyd (cond), Chicago Saxophone Quartet} – Naxos 

M. Camargo GUARNIERI, “Tres Dansas para Orquesta”, {Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela, Maximiano Valdes (cond.)} – Dorian 

Undine SMITH MOORE, “Introduction and Allegro”, {Marcus Eley (clar), Lucerne DeSa (pf)} – Sono Luminus 

Sergei PROKOFIEV, “Peter and the Wolf”, {Scottish National Orchestra, Neeme Jarvi / Richard Clester, flt. / John Digney, oboe / John Cushing, clt. / Lesley Wilson, bas. / Laurence Rogers, hrn. / Martin Gibson, tpi} – Chandos 

WorldView is a classical music radio show featuring composers from everywhere in the world – except Western Europe. Tune in to hear works by lesser-known artists such as Gabriela Montero  and Bright Sheng, and widen your knowledge of classical music. Hinke Younger hosts each week’s episode of WorldView on Mondays at 9AM and again at 6PM on Charlottesvilleclassical.org.

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