At 100, Composer Margaret Bonds Remains A Great Exception

Margaret Bonds, who died in 1972, is perhaps near the top of the very short list of African-American female composers. Thanks to her partnerships with Langston Hughes and soprano Leontyne Price and others, she's remembered in some circles as an important figure in American composition. But, mostly, she's been forgotten.

"It's amazing that people don't know who she was, although she was quite well known in her time," says Louise Toppin, an opera singer and a voice professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Toppin is hosting a symposium on Bonds this weekend, in honor of what would have been the composer's 100th birthday. Toppin spoke with NPR's Celeste Headlee about Bonds' impact on American culture as well as her own development as a musician.


Interview Highlights

On Bonds' Chicago upbringing

"She's born into the time where jazz musicians from the Great Migration have come to Chicago. You have classical musicians that are also there, so it's a very rich musical environment. The Chicago renaissance is going on, so you have writers, poets — everything is happening."

On "Troubled Water," Bonds' adaptation of a classic spiritual

"I actually learned it when I was about 10 years old, as a pianist. It was the first composition my piano teacher gave me. ... I was fascinated as a child to see a composition by an African-American, because I hadn't. As I started to learn the piece and the jazz influence, the extended techniques — you have to have a feel for jazz to play that piece, but you also get a good sense of what a fine pianist Margaret Bonds had to have been to play that."

On Bonds' lifelong collaboration with Langston Hughes

"They had a personal relationship, a friendship. They actually worked collaboratively for so long, and knew each other. And she loved the way he told the story of African-Americans and Harlem during this time, because one of the things that was important to Bonds was to promote not only her own compositions, but just the pride she had in African-American artists."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

Costume Designer Colleen Atwood Took Unlikely Path To Hollywood Royalty

Oscar-winning costume designer Colleen Atwood knows tough times. A single mom at 17 who once worked at a French fry factory to make ends meet is Hollywood royalty today. A favorite of director Tim Burton, Atwood is now costume designer for his adaptation of the darkly comic, Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children and the upcoming Harry Potter prequel, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
NPR

Carnegie Deli Says It Is Closing Down Its Landmark NYC Restaurant

As news of the closing rippled far beyond the deli's home turf in Manhattan Friday, hundreds of people responded with sadness and disbelief.
NPR

Gary Johnson Is Probably The Healthiest Candidate For President

The 63-year-old Libertarian presidential nominee has run 17 marathons and four Ironman Triathlons. He doesn't drink or smoke cigarettes, though his doctor doesn't address his past marijuana use.
NPR

The United Nations Is Launching A Space Mission

The U.N. is planning to send its first spacecraft into orbit, packed with scientific experiments from countries that can't afford their own space programs.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.