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date: 07 May 2021

Bonds [Richardson], Margaret Allisonfree

  • Barbara Garvey Jackson
  • , revised by Dominique-René de Lerma

(b Chicago, IL, 3 March 1913; d Los Angeles, CA, 26 April 1972). Composer, pianist, and teacher. She began musical studies with her mother, whose home was a gathering place for young black writers, artists, and musicians including Will Marion Cook, Lillian Evanti, Abbie Mitchell, and Florence Price. Bonds showed promise early, composing her first work, Marquette Street Blues, at the age of five. In high school Bonds studied piano and composition with Florence Bea Price and later with William Levi Dawson; she received BM and MM degrees from Northwestern University (1933, 1934). She moved to New York in 1939 and in 1940 married Lawrence Richardson. At the Juilliard Graduate School she studied the piano with Djane Herz and composition with Robert Starer. Other teachers included Roy Harris, Emerson Harper, and Walter Gossett.

Bonds first came to public notice when she won the Wanamaker prize in 1932 for the song Sea Ghost; in 1933 she became the first African American soloist to appear with the Chicago SO, in a performance of Price’s Piano Concerto at the World’s Fair. During the 1930s Bonds taught piano (Ned Rorem studied with her in 1933) and was active as a solo and duo pianist in Canada and the United States. In New York she taught and served as music director for musical theater institutions, and organized a chamber society to foster the work of black musicians and composers. She also established a sight-singing program at Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Harlem. Later, she taught at the Inner City Institute and worked with the Inner City Repertory Theater in Los Angeles.

Bonds’s output consists largely of vocal music. Her best-known works are spirituals for solo voice and/or chorus, but she also wrote large musical theater works, notably Shakespeare in Harlem, Romey and Julie, and U.S.A. As a popular-song writer she collaborated with Andy Razaf, and Langston Hughes; the best known of their works are Peachtree Street and Spring will be so Sad. Her works for orchestra and for piano are programmatic and reflect her strong sense of ethnic identity in their use of spiritual materials, jazz harmonies, and social themes (e.g. Montgomery Variations for orchestra, dedicated to Martin Luther King and written at the time of the march on Montgomery in 1965). Her last major work, Credo, was partially performed the month after her death by the Los Angeles PO under Mehta. Some of her arrangements of spirituals were commissioned and recorded by Leontyne Price during the 1960s.

Works

Stage

Shakespeare in Harlem (music theater, L. Hughes), Westport, CT, 1959

Romey and Julie (music theater, R. Dunmore)

U.S.A. (music theater, J. Dos Passos)

The Migration (ballet), perf. 1964

Wings over Broadway (ballet)

4 other music-theater works

Orchestral

4 works, incl. Montgomery Variations, 1965

Choral

The Ballad of the Brown King (Hughes), solo vv, chorus, orch, 1954

Mass, d, chorus, org, perf. 1959 [only Kyrie is extant; reconstructed score in Thomas, 1983]

Fields of Wonder (Hughes), song cycle, male chorus, pf, perf. 1964

Credo (W.E.B. Du Bois) S, Bar, chorus, orch, perf. 1972; many other sacred and secular works

Songs

42, incl. Sea Ghost, 1932

The Negro Speaks of Rivers (Hughes), 1941

To a Brown Girl, Dead (Hughes), 1956

3 Dream Portraits (Hughes), 1959

The Pasture (R. Frost), 1958

Stopping by the woods on a snowy evening (Frost), 1963

Popular songs

14, incl. Peachtree Street, collab. A. Razaf, J. Davis, 1939

Georgia, collab. Razaf, Davis, c1939

Spring will be so sad when she comes this year, collab. H. Dickinson, 1940

Spirituals (all or most arrs.)

5 Spirituals, perf. 1942 (1964)

Ezekiel saw the wheel, 1v, pf (1959), arr. orch, 1968

I got a home in that rock, 1v, orch/pf (1959), rev. 1968

Sing Aho, 1v, pf (1960)

Go tell it on the mountain, 1v/chorus, pf (1962)

This little light of mine, S, chorus, orch

Standin’ in the need of prayer (1v, pf)/(S, chorus)

He’s got the whole world in his hands, 1v, pf (1963)

Ev’ry time I feel the spirit, 1v, pf (1970)

I wish I knew how it would feel to be free, S, chorus, orch

Sinner, please don’t let this harvest pass (1v, pf)/(S, mixed chorus)

6 others

Piano solo

4 works, incl. Spiritual Suite, Troubled Water, 1967

Bibliography

  • C.C. Harris, Jr.: “Three Schools of Black Choral Composers and Arrangers 1900–1970,” Choral Journal, xiv/8 (1974), 11ff
  • A. Tischler: Fifteen Black American Composers with a Bibliography of their Works (Detroit, 1981) [incl. list of works]
  • M.D. Green: Black Women Composers: a Genesis (Boston, 1983)
  • A.J. Thomas: A Study of the Selected Masses of Twentieth-century Black Composers: Margaret Bonds, Robert Ray, George Walker and David Baker (diss., U. of Illinois, 1983)
  • H. Walker-Hill: “Black Women Composers in Chicago: then and now,” Black Music Research Journal, xii (1992), 1–23
  • D. Hawkins: “Bonds, Margaret,” International Dictionary of Black Composers, ed. S.A. Floyd (Chicago, 1999)
  • H. Walker-Hill: From Spirituals to Symphonies: African American Women Composers and Music (Westport, CT, 2002)
E. Southern: Biographical Dictionary of Afro-American and African Musicians