Margaret Bonds (1913-1972) was an important African-American composer, best known for her collaborations with Langston Hughes as they combined his poetry with her music. The Library’s Booth Family Center for Special Collections recently acquired a substantial collection of her papers, originally from the estate of her daughter Djani Richardson. The collection includes hundreds of pages of music manuscripts and manuscript fragments, letters and cards from Langston Hughes and others, photographs, programs, and ephemera.
Margaret Jeanette Allison Majors was born March 3, 1913 in Chicago. Her parents divorced in 1917 and her last name was changed to her mother’s maiden name Bonds. She was a charter member in High School of the National Association of Negro Musicians’ Junior Music Association and entered Northwestern University to study music in 1929, at the age of 16. She won an Honorable Mention in the Wanamaker Competition for her composition “A Dance in Brown” in 1931, and First Prize for the song “Sea Ghost” the following year. She was the first African-American pianist to perform as soloist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1933.
Bonds met Langston Hughes in 1936, and a lifelong friendship and collaboration ensued. In that year she composed several Hughes songs including “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” “Love’s Runnin’ Riot” and “Winter Moon.” They went on to collaborate on innumerable large and small projects, including “Ballad of the Brown King” and “Shakespeare in Harlem.” Bonds moved to New York City in 1939 and married William Richardson that same year. Her daughter Djane was born in 1946. In 1964 she received the first of three ASCAP awards. She moved to Los Angeles in 1967. She died in 1972, at the age of 59.
In collaboration and independently Bonds wrote art and popular songs, choral and orchestral works and piano pieces. Throughout her life she composed, performed and taught in multiple venues.