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If you look at the listings of the major orchestras in America you will see two things in common; very few of them are programming major pieces by women composers, and almost none have a woman on the podium. Despite the abundance of wonderful compositions by women, the world of classical music has been, for centuries, a man’s world.

Margaret Bonds, pianist, composer and teacher

The first Black guest artist to perform with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Pianist, composer and teacher Margaret Bonds grew up in Chicago, the daughter of a civil rights activist father and a church musician mother. As a child she studied piano at the Coleridge Taylor School of Music, and later studied piano and composition with Florence Price. At age 16, Bonds began her studies at Northwestern University, where she earned both her Bachelors and Masters degrees in piano and composition. She was one of the few Black students at Northwestern University and was not allowed to live on campus or use the practice facilities and the swimming pool.

In 1933 Bonds made history as the first Black guest artist to perform with the Chicago Symphony. She met African-American poet and writer Langston Hughes in 1936. The two became dear friends, and she set much of his work to music. She moved to New York for graduate studies at the Julliard School, and later formed the Margaret Bonds Chamber Society, dedicated to the work of black composers and musicians.

She passed away 4 years before the passage of the Copyright Act, and many of her manuscripts were lost after the time of her death. In 2013, Georgetown University acquired 18 boxes of Margaret's manuscripts, which were placed into the Lauinger Library Special Collections Archive. She is best remembered today for her arrangements of spirituals and her frequent collaborations with Langston Hughes.

Lara Downes performs Tangamerican by Margaret Bonds