Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Margaret Allison Bonds

In these recessionary times, it's often good to listen to music that can sooth a weary soul. NU is fortunate to have among it's luminaries Margaret Allison Bonds, a highly accomplished composer, pianist, teacher and musical director. She is perhaps best known for her piano composition "Troubled Waters." She also composed some of our best-loved gospel songs such as "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands," "Dry Bones," and "Lord, I Just Can't Keep From Cryin."

Margaret enrolled at NU in 1929 when she was only 16 years old, and stayed at Northwestern for her undergrad and Masters degrees. She was an incredible pianist, making her debut at New York's Town Hall in 1932, and performing a concertino at the Chicago World's Fair in 1933. While a student at NU, she became the first African American to solo with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1933.

Margaret's many accomplishments have been documented by Dominique-René de Lerma, Professor of Music at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin. His research is available on the website. According to Prof. de Lerma, Margaret collaborated frequently with poet Langston Hughes in some of her best-known works, including the musical Shakespeare in Harlem and the cantata Ballad of the Brown King. Concerts dedicated totally to Margaret Bonds music were offered in Detroit in 1963 and in Washington in 1967. That year she received the Alumni Merit Award from Northwestern University and Mayor Richard Daley declared 31 January to be Margaret Bonds Day. Prof. De Lerma adds that Bonds was also honored by the National Council of Negro Women (1962) and by ASCAP (1964-1966).

I have sung "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands" with my children many times, and it is a great feeling to know that it was written by a NU alum. What a gift!

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