Margaret Bonds

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Margaret Bonds
Margaret Bonds.jpg
Margaret Bonds in 1956
Margaret Allison Bonds

(1913-03-03)March 3, 1913
DiedApril 26, 1972(1972-04-26) (aged 59)
Alma materNorthwestern University
OccupationComposer, pianist
Spouse(s)Lawrence Richardson
RelativesMonroe Alpheus Majors (father)

Margaret Allison Bonds ((1913-03-03)March 3, 1913 – (1972-04-26)April 26, 1972)[1] was an American composer and pianist. One of the first black composers and performers to gain recognition in the United States, she is best remembered today for her frequent collaborations with Langston Hughes.

Early life[edit]

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.[2][3][4] Bonds showed an early aptitude for composition, writing her first work, Marquette Street Blues, at the age of five.[5] Her parents were Monroe Alpheus Majors and his second wife, Estelle C. Bonds.[6] Margaret took the last name, Bonds, after her parents divorced in 1917.[7] Her first study in music came when she took piano lessons from her mother.[7] While still in school, she studied composition with Price and with William Dawson.[7] Bonds worked as an accompanist for dances and singers in various shows and supper clubs around Chicago;[7] she also copied music parts for other composers, and became involved with the National Association of Negro Musicians.[8][9][10]


Upon her high school graduation, Bonds became one of the few black students at Northwestern University.[7] Her song "Sea-Ghost" won a Wanamaker Award in 1932;[2] two years later, at the age of 21, she left Northwestern with a bachelor's and master's degree, both in music.[11] She opened a short-lived school, the Allied Arts Academy, at which she taught art, music, and ballet.[12] She 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.[13][2] In 1939 she moved to New York City; there, she edited music for a living and collaborated on several popular songs.[14][5][9] That same year, an adaptation of "Peach Tree Street" appeared in Gone With the Wind.[15][13] In 1940 Bonds married a probation officer named Lawrence Richardson; the couple later had a daughter.[16][13]

While living in New York, Bonds began further study in piano and composition at the Juilliard School;[7] she also began to study composition privately with Roy Harris and Emerson Harper.[17] She also attempted to gain lessons with Nadia Boulanger, who upon looking at her work said that she needed no further study and refused to teach her.[16][18] The work that Bonds showed Boulanger was The Negro Speaks of Rivers, a setting for voice and piano of a poem by Langston Hughes.[18] Hughes and Bonds were great friends, and she set much of his work to music.[9]

Bonds continued to take in piano students after her marriage, and while she was still a student.[9] She performed, too, gaining work with major orchestras and forming a piano duo with Gerald Cook.[9] At the same time, she formed the Margaret Bonds Chamber Society, a group of black musicians which performed mainly the work of black classical composers.[9] Bonds lived in Harlem, and worked on many music projects in the neighborhood.[9] She helped to establish a Cultural Community Center, and served as the minister of music at a church in the area.[7]

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.[9] To a text by Hughes, the work tells the story of the Three Wise Men, focusing primarily on Balthazar, the so-called "brown king".[7] A large work in nine movements, the piece combines elements of various black musical traditions, such as jazz, blues, calypso, and spirituals.[9] The piece was first performed in December 1954 in New York.[7] 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;[9] her D Minor Mass for chorus and organ was first performed in the same year.[9]

Another work based on a text by Langston Hughes was first performed in February 2018 in Washington, DC, by the Georgetown University Concert Choir under Frederick Binkholder.[19] Entitled "Simon Bore the Cross", it is a cantata for piano and voice, and is based on the spiritual "He Never Said a Mumblin' Word".[20][21]

As an outgrowth of her compositions for voice, Bonds later became active in the theater, serving as music director for numerous productions and writing two ballets.[9] She also wrote several music-theater works, including Shakespeare in Harlem to a libretto by Hughes; this premiered in 1959.[22] In 1965, at the time of the Freedom March on Montgomery, Alabama, Bonds wrote Montgomery Variations for orchestra, dedicating it to Martin Luther King, Jr.[7] Two years later, she moved to Los Angeles, teaching music at the Los Angeles Inner City Institute and at the Inner City Cultural Center.[7] Zubin Mehta and the Los Angeles Philharmonic premiered her Credo for chorus and orchestra in 1972;[18] Bonds died unexpectedly a few months later, shortly after her 59th birthday.[23][7]

Major works[edit]

  • Sea Ghost, voice and piano (1932)
  • Don't You Want to Free, music-theater work (1938)
  • Wings over Broadway, orchestra (1940)
  • Tropics After Dark, musical-theater work (1940)
  • The Negro Speaks of Rivers, voice and piano (1942)
  • Troubled Water, piano
  • The Ballad of the Brown King, chorus, soloists, and orchestra (1954)
  • Songs of the Seasons, voice and piano (1955)
  • Three Dream Portraits, voice and piano (1959)
  • Mass in D-Minor, chorus and organ (1959)
  • Shakespeare in Harlem, music-theater work (1959)
  • Joshua Fit De Battle of Jericho, voice and orchestra (1959)
  • Ballad of the Brown King, chorus and orchestra (1960)
  • Fields of Wonder, men's voices (1963)
  • Montgomery Variations, orchestra (1964)[24]
  • Credo, S solo, Bar solo, chorus and orchestra (1965)[24]

Pieces for solo voice[edit]

  • Be a little savage with me, Text: Langston Hughes
  • Chocolate Carmencita, Text: Langston Hughes
  • Cowboy from South Parkway, Text: Langston Hughes
  • Didn't it rain!, Spiritual
  • Empty Interlude, Text: Roger Chaney and Andy Razaf
  • Ezekiel saw de wheel
  • Five Creek-Freedmen spirituals
  1. "Dry Bones"
  2. "Sit down servant"
  3. "Lord, I just can't keep from crying"
  4. "You can tell the world"
  5. "I'll reach to heaven"
  • Georgia
  • Go tell it on the mountain
  • He's got the whole world in His hands
  • Hold on
  • I got a home in that rock
  • I shall pass through the world
  • I'll make you savvy
  • Joshua fit da battle of Jericho, Spiritual
  • Just a no good man, Text: Langston Hughes
  • Let's make a dream come true
  • Lonely little maiden by the sea, Text: Langston Hughes
  • Market day in Martinique, Text: Langston Hughes
  • Mary had a little baby
  • The Negro speaks of rivers, Text: Langston Hughes
  • No good man
  • Peachtree street
  • Pretty flower of the tropics, Text: Langston Hughes and Arna Bontemps
  • Rainbow gold, Text: Roger Cheney
  • Sing aho, Spiritual
  • Songs of the Seasons, Text: Langston Hughes
  1. "Poem d'automne"
  2. "Winter-moon"
  3. "Young love in spring"
  4. "Summer storm"
  • Spring will be so sad
  • Sweet nothings in Spanish, Text: Langston Hughes and Arna Bontemps
  • Tain't no need, Text: Roger Cheney
  • Three dream portraits
  • To a brown girl dead, Text: Countee Cullen
  • The way we dance in Chicago/Harlem, Text: Langston Hughes
  • When the dove enters in, Text: Langston Hughes
  • When the sun goes down in rhumba land, Text: Langston Hughes and Arna Bontemps

Pieces for piano[edit]

  • Lillian M. Bowles: For the piano
  • Troubled water

Choral pieces[edit]

  • Ballad of the brown king (SATB, tenor solo), Text: Langston Hughes
  • Children's sleep (SATB), Text: Vernon Glasser
  • Credo (SATB, solo soprano, baritone, orchestra/piano reduction), Text: W.E.B. Du Bois[24]
  • Ezek'el saw de wheel
  • Go tell it on the mountain
  • Hold on
  • I shall pass through this world (a capella)
  • Mary had a little baby (SSAA)
  • The Negro speaks of rivers, Text: Langston Hughes
  • You can tell the world (SSA)
  • You can tell the world (TTBB)



Some of Bonds' music, mainly piano pieces and art songs, has been recorded on various labels, mostly on compilation albums of music by black composers. In 2019 the premiere recording of The Ballad of the Brown King (performed by The Dessoff Choirs and Orchestra) was released on the Avie label.[26]


  1. ^ Hawkins, Deborah. "Bonds, Margaret." (1999). in International Dictionary of Black Composers. Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn. pp. 131-137. ISBN 1884964273
  2. ^ a b c Price, Florence (2008). Symphonies nos. 1 and 3. A-R Editions, Inc. p. 40. Retrieved February 21, 2020.
  3. ^ Enright, Laura L. (2005). Chicago's Most Wanted™: The Top 10 Book of Murderous Mobsters, Midway Monsters, and Windy City Oddities. Potomac Books, Inc. p. 286. Retrieved February 21, 2020.
  4. ^ Strimple, Nick (2005). Choral Music in the Twentieth Century. Amadeus Press. p. 187. Retrieved February 21, 2020.
  5. ^ a b Smith, Jessie Carney (1992). Notable Black American Women. Gale Research. p. 95. Retrieved February 21, 2020.
  6. ^ Krapp, Kristine M. (1999). Notable Black American Scientists. Gale Research. p. 212. Retrieved February 21, 2020.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Walker-Hill, Helen (2007). "Margaret Bonds". From spirituals to symphonies: African-American women composers and their music. University of Illinois Press. p. 141. ISBN 9780252074547. Retrieved February 21, 2020 – via Internet Archive.
  8. ^ "Spirituals to Opera". Fairfield County Fair. August 4, 1955. p. 8. Retrieved February 21, 2020 – via NewspaperArchive.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Fuller, Sophie (1994). The Pandora guide to women composers: Britain and the United States 1629- present. Pandora. p. 64. Retrieved February 21, 2020.
  10. ^ McGinty, Doris Evans (2004). A Documentary History of the National Association of Negro Musicians. Center for Black Music Research. p. 151. Retrieved February 21, 2020.
  11. ^ Williams, Ora (2003). American Black Women in the Arts and Social Sciences: A Bibliographic Survey. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 36. Retrieved February 21, 2020.
  12. ^ Hughes, Langston (1995). Langston Hughes and the Chicago Defender: Essays on Race, Politics, and Culture, 1942-62. University of Illinois Press. p. 251. Retrieved February 21, 2020.
  13. ^ a b c Hine, Darlene Clark (1993). Black Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, Volume 1. Carlson Pub. p. 147. Retrieved February 21, 2020.
  14. ^ "Noteworthy Female Composers Remembered". ProQuest 390163931.
  15. ^ Mohan, Carren Denise (1997). The Contributions of Four African-American Women Composers to American Art Song. Ann Arbor: The Ohio State University. p. 5. ISBN 9780591412734.
  16. ^ a b MacAuslan, Janna (1989). "Noteworthy women: Price, Bonds, and Perry; Three Black Women Composers". Hot Wire: The Journal of Women's Music and Culture. 5 (3): 13.
  17. ^ Thomas, André Jerome (1983). A study of the selected masses of twentieth-century black composers: Margaret Bonds, Robert Ray, George Walker, and David Baker. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. p. 9. Retrieved February 21, 2020.
  18. ^ a b c Matthew Hoch, Linda Lister (2019). So You Want to Sing Music by Women: A Guide for Performers. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 36. Retrieved February 21, 2020.
  19. ^ "World Premiere Simon Bore the Cross". Georgetown University. Department of Performing Arts. Retrieved February 21, 2020.
  20. ^ John F Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: Millennium Stage program for February 24, 2018
  21. ^ "GU Concert Choir: "Simon Bore the Cross"". Georgetown University. April 30, 2018. Retrieved May 7, 2018.
  22. ^ James A. Emanuel, Theodore L. Gross (1968). Dark Symphony. Simon and Schuster. p. 197. Retrieved February 21, 2020.
  23. ^ "Deaths elsewhere". New Castle News. Los Angeles. UPI. April 28, 1972. p. 3. Retrieved February 21, 2020 – via NewspaperArchive.
  24. ^ a b c ed. John Michael Cooper (2018)
  25. ^ Walker-Hill, Helen (1995). Music by Black Women Composers: A Bibliography of Available Scores. Columbia College Chicago: Center for Black Music Research. pp. 46–47. ISBN 0-929911-04-0.
  26. ^ "Catalogue". Avie. Retrieved February 21, 2020.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]