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Margaret Bonds (1913–1972) received great acclaim during her lifetime as a composer, pianist, and teacher. She was the first black soloist to perform with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, in 1933.
The musical life of Margaret Bonds (1913–1972), a native of Chicago, began in her family’s living room, where her mother (an accomplished organist) facilitated gatherings of important black artists, writers, and musicians. It was here that Bonds met Florence Price, with whom she studied piano and composition. In 1933, Bonds performed Price’s Piano Concerto with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra during the World’s Fair; with this performance, she holds the distinction of being the first African-American woman to perform as a soloist with a major American orchestra. In 1939, Bonds moved to New York and became an important figure in the artistic scene in Harlem. Her close friendship with Langston Hughes led to many of her celebrated vocal compositions, such as the choral work The Ballad of the Brown King, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” (1941), and the songs collected under the title Three Dream Portraits (1959).