Margaret Bonds(1913-1972) was an African-American composer and pianist, well known in her time, but then vanishing from accounts shaped by the stereotypes of classical music. Many times when I search for Margaret’s, I am introduced to women I had never heard of. Simply by searching something as random as one name, I discover whole worlds. Margaret Bonds grew up with a church musician mother, and played piano from a young age, and devoted herself to music. She enrolled in Northwestern University in Chicago, although she was not allowed to live there or use the facilities because she was black. In an interview with James Hatch, Bonds describes discovering the poetry of Langston Hughes in 1929:
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.
Ten years later, Bonds finally met Langston Hughes and they started a musical collaboration and friendship. Take a moment to listen to Margaret Bonds’ arrangement of I, Too, sung by Icy Rene Simpson.
For a more in-depth study of Bonds’ work, check out Alethea N. Kilgore’s thesis on Life and Solo Vocal Works of Margaret Allison Bonds.