Margaret Bonds

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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
SpouseLawrence 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, pianist, arranger, and teacher. One of the first Black composers and performers to gain recognition in the United States, she is best remembered today for her popular arrangements of African-American spirituals and frequent collaborations with Langston Hughes.[2]


Family background and life[edit]

Margaret Jeanette Allison Majors was born on March 3, 1913, in Chicago, Illinois. Her father, Monroe Alpheus Majors, was an active force in the civil rights movement as a physician and writer. His work included the founding of a medical association for black physicians who were denied membership in the American Medical Association on the basis of race. As an author, Majors is known for his book, Noted Negro Women: Their Triumphs and Activities (1893), and for his work as editor of several African-American newspapers.[3] Her mother, Estelle C. Bonds, was a church musician and member of the National Association of Negro Musicians. She died in 1957.[4] Margaret was close to both of her parents; their influence in her life is undoubtedly clear in her own work as a musician.

In 1940, Margaret Bonds married Lawrence Richardson (1911-1990), a probation officer, after moving to New York City in 1939. The couple later had a daughter, Djane Richardson (1946-2011).[5][6][7] When Bonds passed away on April 26, 1972, in Los Angeles, California, she was survived by her husband, daughter, and sister.[8]

Childhood and background info[edit]

In 1917, when she was four years old, Margaret's parents divorced. She grew up in her mother's home and was given her mother's maiden name, Bonds.[9] Bonds grew up in a home visited by many of the leading black writers, artists, and musicians of the era; among houseguests were sopranos Abbie Mitchell, and Lillian Evanti, and composers Florence Price and Will Marion Cook, all of whom would become influential to her future musical studies and career.[10][11][12][13] Bonds showed an early aptitude for composition, writing her first work, Marquette Street Blues, at the age of five.[14] Her first musical studies were with her mother, who taught Margaret piano lessons at home.[9]

Bonds worked as an accompanist for dances and singers in various shows and supper clubs around Chicago;[9] she also copied music parts for other composers.[15][16][17]


During high school, Bonds studied piano and composition with Florence Price and William Dawson.[9] In 1929, at the young age of 16, Bonds began her studies at Northwestern University, where she earned both her Bachelor of Music (1933) and Master of Music (1934) degrees in piano and composition.[18] Bonds was one of the few black students at Northwestern University; the environment was hostile, racist, and nearly unbearable.[9] Although she was permitted to study there, she was not permitted to reside on campus. Margaret recalls, in an interview with James Hatch:

I was in this prejudiced university, this terribly prejudiced place…. I was looking in the basement of the Evanston Public Library where they had the poetry. I came in contact with this wonderful poem, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” and I’m sure it helped my feelings of security. Because in that poem he tells how great the black man is. And if I had any misgivings, which I would have to have – here you are in a setup where the restaurants won’t serve you and you’re going to college, you’re sacrificing, trying to get through school – and I know that poem helped save me.[19][20]

Bonds moved to New York City after graduating from Northwestern University. There she attended the prestigious Juilliard School of Music and studied composition with Roy Harris, Robert Starer, and Emerson Harper, and piano with Djane Herz.[7][21][13] She also studied with Walter Gossett.[13] She pursued lessons with Nadia Boulanger, who upon looking at her work said that she needed no further study and refused to teach her.[5][22] However, it is inconclusive whether Boulanger truly thought Bonds had no need of further instruction or was acting from a position of racial prejudice.[23] The work Boulanger refers to is The Negro Speaks of Rivers, a setting for voice and piano of Langston Hughes' poem by the same title—the very poem which brought Bonds such comfort during her years at Northwestern University.[22]

Langston Hughes[edit]

Langston Hughes (1901-1967) was a prolific African-American poet and writer. Hughes and Bonds became great friends after meeting in person in 1936, and she set much of his work to music.[16] On May 22, 1952, Langston (poet), Bonds (pianist), and Daniel Andrews (baritone) collaborated on a project, "An Evening of Music and Poetry in Negro Life," performing at Community Church.[24] This project took place just months after Bond's debut solo performance at Town Hall in New York City, February 7, 1952. Ever a good friend, Hughes sent Bonds a Western Union telegram the afternoon of her performance, telling her how much he desired to be present and sending his best wishes.[25]

Bonds wrote several music-theater works. In 1959, she set music to Shakespeare in Harlem, a libretto by Hughes.[26] It premiered in 1960 at the 41st Street Theater.[20] Other collaborations include "The Negro Speaks of Rivers," "Songs of the Seasons," and "Three Dream Portraits."[8] 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.[27] 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".[28][29]

The death of Langston Hughes in 1967 was difficult for Bonds. Afterward, she left her husband and daughter to move from New York to Los Angeles where she remained until her death on April 26, 1972.


Bonds was active in her career throughout her studies at Northwestern University. In 1932, Bond's composition Sea Ghost won the prestigious national Wanamaker Foundation Prize, bringing her to the public's attention.[10][13] On June 15, 1933, Bonds performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra—the first black person in history to do so—during its Century of Progress series (Concertino for Piano and Orchestra by John Alden Carpenter). She would return in 1934 to perform Piano Concerto in D Minor composed by former teacher, Florence Price.[4]

After graduation, Bonds continued to teach, compose, and perform in Chicago. Two of her notable students were Ned Rorem and Gerald Cook, with whom she performed piano duos in later years.[16] In 1936, she opened the Allied Arts Academy where she taught art, music, and ballet.[30] That same year, an adaptation of "Peach Tree Street" appeared in Gone With the Wind.[31][6]

In 1939, she moved to New York City where she edited music for a living and collaborated on several popular songs.[32][14][16] She made her solo performing debut at Town Hall on February 7, 1952.[33] Around this same time, she formed the Margaret Bonds Chamber Society, a group of black musicians which performed mainly the work of black classical composers. Bonds lived in Harlem, and worked on many music projects in the neighborhood.[16] She helped to establish a Cultural Community Center, and served as the minister of music at a church in the area.[9]

Among Bonds' works from the 1950s is The Ballad of the Brown King, a large-scale work which was first performed in December 1954 in New York. It tells the story of the Three Wise Men, focusing primarily on Balthazar, the so-called "brown king".[9] It was originally written for voice and piano, but later revised for chorus, soloists, and orchestra, and eventually televised by CBS in 1960. A large work in nine movements, the piece combines elements of various black musical traditions, such as jazz, blues, calypso, and spirituals. Bonds was writing other works during this period of her career: Three Dream Portraits for voice and piano, again setting Hughes' poetry, were published in 1959. D Minor Mass for chorus and organ was first performed in the same year.[16]

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.[16] In 1964, Bonds wrote Montgomery Variations for orchestra, a set of seven programmatic variations on the spiritual "I Want Jesus to Walk with Me." Bonds penned a program for the work which explains that it centered on Southern Blacks' decision no longer to accept the segregationist policies of the Jim Crow South, focusing on the Montgomery Bus Boycotts and the 1963 bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. Bonds shared the completed work with Ned Rorem, a close friend and former student, in 1964. She eventually dedicated the work to Martin Luther King Jr.[9][34] Two years later, she moved to Los Angeles, teaching music at the Los Angeles Inner City Institute and at the Inner City Cultural Center.[9] Zubin Mehta and the Los Angeles Philharmonic premiered her Credo for chorus and orchestra in 1972.[22] Bonds died unexpectedly a few months later, shortly after her 59th birthday.[35][9]


  • National Association of Negro Musicians' Junior Music Association (High School)
  • Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated
  • National Guild of Piano Teachers (1951)
  • American Musicians' Welfare Association (1951)
  • National Association of Colored Women's Clubs (1962)


Margaret Bonds did much to promote the music of black musicians. Her own compositions and lyrics addressed racial issues of the time. The performance with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra was an historical moment, marking the first occasion a black performer had performed with them as soloist. Bonds connected her father's political activism with her mother's sense of musicianship. In addition, many well-known arrangements of African-American spirituals (He's Got the Whole World In His Hands) were created by Bonds.

Major works[edit]

  • Sea Ghost, voice and piano (1932)
  • Don't You Want to Be Free, music-theater work (1938), Text: Langston Hughes
  • 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), Text: Langston Hughes
  • U.S.A., music-theater work, Text: John Dos Passos
  • 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)[36]
  • Credo, S solo, Bar solo, chorus and orchestra (1965)[36]

Pieces for stage[edit]

  • Shakespeare in Harlem, music-theater work (1959), Text: Langston Hughes[13]
  • Romey and Julie, Text: R. Dunmore[13]
  • U.S.A., music-theater work, Text: R. Dunmore[13]
  • The Migration, ballet[13]
  • Wings over Broadway, ballet[13]

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 (1946)[37][38]
  1. "Dry Bones"[37]
  2. "Sit down servant"
  3. "Lord, I just can't keep from crying"[37]
  4. "You can tell the world"
  5. "I'll reach to heaven"
  • Georgia (1939), in collaboration with A. Razaf, and J. Davis[13]
  • Go tell it on the mountain
  • He's got the whole world in His hands[37][38]
  • 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 (1942), Text: Langston Hughes[37][38]
  • No good man
  • Peachtree street
  • Pretty flower of the tropics, Text: Langston Hughes and Arna Bontemps
  • Rainbow gold, Text: Roger Cheney
  • Sing aho, Spiritual
  • Six Songs on Poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay[36]
  1. "Women Have Loved Before as I Love Now"
  2. "Hyacinth"
  3. "Even in the Moment"
  4. "Feast"
  5. "I Know My Mind"
  6. "What Lips My Lips Have Kissed"
  • 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 when she comes this year (1940), in collaboration with H. Dickinson[13]
  • Sweet nothings in Spanish, Text: Langston Hughes and Arna Bontemps
  • Three Sacred Songs[36]
  1. "No Man Has Seen His Face"
  2. "Touch the Hem of His Garment"
  3. "Faith in Thee"
  • Tain't no need, Text: Roger Cheney
  • Three dream portraits (1959)[37][38]
  • 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[39]
  • When the sun goes down in rhumba land, Text: Langston Hughes and Arna Bontemps
  • The Pasture (1959), Text: R. Frost[13]
  • Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening (1963), Text: R. Frost[13]

Pieces for piano[edit]

  • Lillian M. Bowles: For the piano
  • Troubled water(1967)[37][40]
  • Two Piano Pieces[36]
  1. "Tangamerican"
  2. "Fugal Dance

Choral pieces[edit]

  • Ballad of the brown king (SATB, tenor solo), Text: Langston Hughes
  • Children's sleep (SATB), Text: Vernon Glasser
  • Credo (soprano solo, baritone solo, SATB chorus, piano) (1966), Text: W.E.B. Du Bois<ed. John Michael Cooper (Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania: Hildegard Publishing Company, 2020)>
  • Credo (soprano solo, baritone solo, SATB chorus, orchestra) (1967), text: W.E.B. Du Bois<ed. John Michael Cooper (Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania: Hildegard Publishing Company, 2020)>
  • Touch the Hem of His Garment (S solo, SATB chorus, piano) (1968). Text: Janice Lovoos.[41] (see also under 'Pieces for Solo Voice)
  • No Man Has Seen His Face (S or T solo, SATB chorus, piano) (1968). Text: Janice Lovoos.[42] (see also under 'Pieces for Solo Voice)
  • 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)
  • Fields of Wonder, song cycle, male chorus, Text: Langston Hughes[13]
  • Mass in D minor (only Kyrie is extant)[13]
  • This Little light of mine, spiritual, for soprano, chorus, and orchestra[13]
  • Touch the Hem of His Garment (Lovoos), for soprano, chorus, and piano
  • Standin' in the need of prayer, spiritual, for soprano and chorus
  • I wish I knew how it would feel to be free, spiritual, for soprano, chorus, and orchestra[13]
  • Sinner, please don't let this harvest pass, spiritual, for soprano and mixed chorus[13]

List includes works compiled in a monograph published by the Center for Black Music Research at Columbia College Chicago.[43]


In the 1960s, Leontyne Price, the first African American opera singer to become internationally famous, commissioned and recorded some of Bonds' arrangements of spirituals.[13][44] 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.[45]


  1. ^ Hawkins, Deborah. "Bonds, Margaret." (1999). in International Dictionary of Black Composers. Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn. pp. 131-137. ISBN 1884964273
  2. ^ "· African Diaspora Music Project".
  3. ^ "Monroe Alpheus Majors", Wikipedia, July 23, 2020, retrieved September 16, 2020
  4. ^ a b c "Margaret Bonds: Composer and Activist | Georgetown University Library". Retrieved September 16, 2020.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ a b Hine, Darlene Clark (1993). Black Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, Volume 1. Carlson Pub. p. 147. ISBN 9780926019614. Retrieved February 21, 2020.
  7. ^ a b "Collection: Margaret Bonds papers | Archives at Yale". Retrieved September 16, 2020.
  8. ^ a b "Margaret Bonds, 59, Pianist, Arranger". The New York Times. April 29, 1972. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved September 16, 2020.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j 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.
  10. ^ a b Price, Florence (2008). Symphonies nos. 1 and 3. A-R Editions, Inc. p. 40. ISBN 9780895796387. Retrieved February 21, 2020.
  11. ^ 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. ISBN 9781612340340. Retrieved February 21, 2020.
  12. ^ Strimple, Nick (2005). Choral Music in the Twentieth Century. Amadeus Press. p. 187. ISBN 9781574673784. Retrieved February 21, 2020.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t Jackson, Barbara Garvey (September 30, 2020), De Lerma, Dominique-René (ed.), "Bonds [Richardson], Margaret Allison", Oxford Music Online, Oxford University Press, doi:10.1093/omo/9781561592630.013.90000318953, ISBN 978-1-56159-263-0
  14. ^ a b Smith, Jessie Carney (1992). Notable Black American Women. Gale Research. p. 95. ISBN 9780810347496. Retrieved February 21, 2020.
  15. ^ "Spirituals to Opera". Fairfield County Fair. August 4, 1955. p. 8. Retrieved February 21, 2020 – via NewspaperArchive.
  16. ^ a b c d e f g Fuller, Sophie (1994). The Pandora guide to women composers: Britain and the United States 1629- present. Pandora. p. 64. Retrieved February 21, 2020.
  17. ^ McGinty, Doris Evans (2004). A Documentary History of the National Association of Negro Musicians. Center for Black Music Research. p. 151. ISBN 9780929911106. Retrieved February 21, 2020.
  18. ^ "Margaret Bonds |". Retrieved September 16, 2020.
  19. ^ Almon, Margaret. "Margaret Bonds Archives - Margaret Almon". Retrieved September 16, 2020.
  20. ^ a b "Margaret Bonds Biography". Afrocentric Voices in "Classical" Music. February 10, 2016. Retrieved September 16, 2020.
  21. ^ 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.
  22. ^ a b c Matthew Hoch, Linda Lister (2019). So You Want to Sing Music by Women: A Guide for Performers. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 36. ISBN 9781538116074. Retrieved February 21, 2020.
  23. ^ "The unsung legacies of composers Margaret Bonds and Florence Price - CSO Sounds & Stories". Retrieved September 16, 2020.
  24. ^ "Music Notes". The New York Times. May 22, 1952. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved September 16, 2020.
  25. ^ "Open Ears: The Endlessly Unfolding Story of Margaret Bonds". Classical KUSC. April 30, 2018. Retrieved September 16, 2020.
  26. ^ James A. Emanuel, Theodore L. Gross (1968). Dark Symphony. Simon and Schuster. p. 197. ISBN 9780029095409. Retrieved February 21, 2020.
  27. ^ "World Premiere Simon Bore the Cross". Georgetown University. Department of Performing Arts. Retrieved February 21, 2020.
  28. ^ John F Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: Millennium Stage program for February 24, 2018
  29. ^ "GU Concert Choir: "Simon Bore the Cross"". Georgetown University. April 30, 2018. Retrieved May 7, 2018.
  30. ^ Hughes, Langston (1995). Langston Hughes and the Chicago Defender: Essays on Race, Politics, and Culture, 1942-62. University of Illinois Press. p. 251. ISBN 9780252064746. Retrieved February 21, 2020.
  31. ^ 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.
  32. ^ "Noteworthy Female Composers Remembered". ProQuest 390163931.
  33. ^ "Music Notes". The New York Times. February 7, 1952. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved September 16, 2020.
  34. ^ Helen Walker-Hill and others erroneously state that the Montgomery Variations were composed in 1965, after the third Freedom March from Selma to Montgomery -- but the autograph is clearly dated 1964 and Bonds shared the work with Rorem and others in the autumn of that year, several months before the 1965 marches were organized.
  35. ^ "Deaths elsewhere". New Castle News. Los Angeles. UPI. April 28, 1972. p. 3. Retrieved February 21, 2020 – via NewspaperArchive.
  36. ^ a b c d e Cooper, John Michael. "My Published Editions". Retrieved November 10, 2020. (confirmed in a list of select Bonds works that professor of musicology Cooper has compiled from numerous disparate scores into a complete score pending (2020) publication by the Hildegard Publishing Company, Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania)
  37. ^ a b c d e f g "Margaret Bonds (1913 - 1972) | Works in the Hildegard Catalog". Hildegard Publishing Company. Retrieved November 10, 2020.
  38. ^ a b c d Various composers (1995). Taylor, Vivian (ed.). Art songs and spirituals by African-American Women Composers. Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania: Hildegard Publishing Company. OCLC 1176046867. Retrieved November 10, 2020.
  39. ^ ed. John Michael Cooper (Worcester, Mass.: Hildegard Publishing, 2021)
  40. ^ Various composers (1992). Walker-Hill, Helen (ed.). Black Women Composers: A Century of Piano Music (1893-1990). Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania: Hildegard Publishing Company. OCLC 682112961. Retrieved November 10, 2020.
  41. ^ ed. John Michael Cooper (Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania: Hildegard Publishing Company, 2021).
  42. ^ ed. John Michael Cooper (Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania: Hildegard Publishing Company, 2021)
  43. ^ Walker-Hill, Helen (1995). Music by Black Women Composers: A Bibliography of Available Scores. Chicago: Columbia College Chicago. pp. 9, 46–47, 77, 104. ISBN 0-929911-04-0.
  44. ^ "Leontyne Price | Biography, Opera, & Facts". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved February 26, 2021.
  45. ^ "Catalogue". Avie. Retrieved February 21, 2020.

Further reading[edit]

  • Fuller, Sophie. The Pandora Guide to Women Composers. London: HarperCollins, 1994.
  • Green, Mildred Denby (1983). Black Women Composers: A Genesis. Boston: Twayne Publishers. ISBN 9780805794502.
  • Harris, C. C. Jr. "Three Schools of Black Composers and Arrangers 1900-1970." Choral Journal 14, no. 8 (1974).
  • Hawkins, D. "Bonds, Margaret." In International Dictionary of Black Composer, edited by S.A. Floyd. Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn, 1999.
  • Lauritzen, Brian. "Open Ears: The Endlessly Unfolding Story of Margaret Bonds", April 30, 2018
  • Smith, Jessie Carney; Phelps, Shirelle (2003). Notable Black American women. Detroit: Gale Research. ISBN 978-0810347496.
  • Thomas, A.J. A Study of the Selected Masses of Twentieth-Century Black Composers: Margaret Bonds, Robert Ray, George Walker. D.M.A. diss., University of Illinois, 1983.
  • Tischler, A. Fifteen Black American Composers with a Bibliography of their Works. Detroit: Information Coordinators, 1981.
  • Walker-Hill, Helen. From Spirituals to Symphonies: African-American Women Composers and Their Music. Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2007.

External links[edit]