Date of Award

Spring 5-2016

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA)



Committee Chair

Gregory A. Fuller

Committee Chair Department


Committee Member 2

Jack L. Dean

Committee Member 2 Department


Committee Member 3

Edward M. Hafer

Committee Member 3 Department


Committee Member 4

Joseph L. Brumbeloe

Committee Member 4 Department


Committee Member 5

Steven R. Moser

Committee Member 5 Department



William Grant Still’s lynching drama …And They Lynched Him on a Tree is a rarely performed work for white choir, black choir, contralto soloist, narrator and orchestra. The title and subject matter of the work have been significant hurdles for many conductors who have considered the piece for performance. Additionally, the piece exists in several editions, and among each edition there are inconsistencies in terms of scoring and text, further making the piece difficult to program. Further, the piece, published as a choral ballad, is often labeled as a cantata, oratorio, ballad or play. It is true that the piece functions much like a theatre piece. …And They Lynched Him on a Tree contains sound effects, stage directions and a cast of characters; however, the work is sung throughout, except for the narration, which is set in strict rhythm. This document chronicles the performance and reception history of …And They Lynched Him on a Tree and offers practical suggestions for addressing the performance practice concerns inherent in the piece.

To date there has been only one piece of scholarly research that addresses …And They Lynched Him on a Tree as its sole focus: Wayne Shirley’s article “William Grant Still’s Choral Ballad And They Lynched Him on a Tree,” which was published in the Winter 1994 volume of American Music. Still’s lynching drama receives scarce mention in choral and music history literature texts. However, the piece appears in many works lists and receives brief treatment in bibliographic and biographical works dedicated to Still and several music reference sources on African American composers.

There have been only twenty-seven documented performances of …And They Lynched Him on a Tree in the seventy-five years since its premiere. The majority of those performances have occurred in the Northeastern States. There is only one commercial recording available for purchase, recorded in 1996 by VocalEssence and the Leigh Morris Chorale under the direction of Phillip Brunelle. This document theorizes that the 1996 recording has played a major role in the increased performance activity of …And They Lynched Him on a Tree since 1996.