Concert Pianist, Journalist, Wife to and Collaborator of William Grant Still
February 16, 1910 - November 22, 1987
Verna Arvey had a dual career as concert pianist and distinguished journalist.
Born of Russian-Jewish heritage in Los Angeles on February 16, 1910, and
educated in the public schools of that city, she studied music privately with
Marguerite d'Aleria, Rose Cooper Vinetz, Alexander Kosloff and Ann Eachus.
During the time she concertized in the United States and Latin America, she also
appeared as soloist with Raymond Paige's orchestra over the CBS Network and
(in 1939) with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra under Otto Klemperer,
playing William Grant Stills Kaintuck', a work which the composer dedicated to
her. On the latter occasion, Richard Drake Saunders wrote in the Musical Courier
that Verna Arvey gave the solo part with lovely tone and musicianly skill,
making no attempt at tonal display but balancing effectively with the orchestra.
As a writer, Verna Arvey contributed articles to the Etude, Musical Courier,
New York Times Music Section, Opera, Concert and Symphony, Musical America,
Chesterian (London), American Dancer, Ritmo (Madrid), Musical Digest and
American Mercury. She authored the book, Choreographic Music (published by
E. P. Dutton, 1941), which the Chicago Tribune termed a mine of information
about music which has been written for the dance, and a learned record of ballet
music, its sources and its composers. And she authored the biographical book,
In One Lifetime (published by the University of Arkansas Press, 1984), which
tells the story of William Grant Still.
After her marriage to William Grant Still in 1939 and the birth of their children
(Duncan Allan and Judith Anne), Verna Arvey devoted much of her time to
advancing her husband's music. In this capacity, she served as collaborator,
librettist, promoter, and archivist. Her monograph on his work, Studies of
Contemporary American Composers: William Grant Still, was published by
J. Fischer & Bro in 1939. Among the many Still compositions that she supplied
texts for are: Lenox Avenue (commissioned by CBS); The Little Song That Wanted
to be a Symphony; Rhapsody for soprano; the ballet Miss Sally's Party; the songs
Mississippi, Song for the Valiant, Song for the Lonely, Up There, and Lament;
the choral works Wailing Woman and Those Who Wait; and the operas
A Bayou Legend, A Southern Interlude, Costaso and Mota.
Verna Arvey is listed in the first edition of Who's Who of American Women (1941)
and the third edition of The World Who's Who of Women (1976). She became
a member of ASCAP in 1943.