Town Hall Concert

Tuesday, February 15, 1949

This episode is from the WNYC archives. It may contain language which is no longer politically or socially appropriate.

10th Annual WNYC American Music Festival, February 15, 1949

Performances by Maurice Wilk, Kenneth Spencer, Paul Olefsky, and the New York Woodwind Quintet. Music by Halsey Stevens, William Grant Still, Gail Kubik, and others.

The broadcast begins with the radio premiere of Halsey Stevens’s 1947 work, Violin Sonata, performed by Maurice Wilk on violin and Bernice Rapkin on piano. (brief bios of each)

Four settings of various poems called Songs of Separation by William Grant Still and performed by Kenneth Spencer on baritone and Alfred Knopf on piano. These include: "Idolatry" based on the poem by Arna Wendell Bontemps; "Parted" based on the poem by Paul Laurence Dunbar; "If You Should Go" based based on the poem by Countee Cullen; and "A Black Pierrot" based on the poem by Langston Hughes. (brief bio of Still)

Spencer and Knopf continue with "Freedom is a Hard Fought Thing" by Gail Kubik and "I’ve Known Rivers" by Harold Swanson.

The President of the New York City Council, Vincent R. Impellitteri, makes some brief remarks about the American Music Festival. (Increasing noise on the recording.)

Paul Olefsky and Theodore Lettvin perform Sonata for Cello and Piano opus 6 by Samuel Barber. (By the end of the first movement the recording noise disappears.)

The first performance of Harold Gilmore’s Daydream.

Kenneth Spencer performs four songs by Celius Dougherty with Alfred Knopf on piano: "Hush’d Be the Camps To-day," "Blow Ye Wings High-Ho," "Western Ocean," and "Mobile Bay."

New York Woodwind Quintet performs Suite for Woodwind Quintet by Philip James (brief bio of James)

Recording cuts out before performance; side 6 missing? Recording picks back up at the end of the performance.

Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection

WNYC archives id: 37919
Municipal archives id: LT881


Samuel Barber, Arna Bontemps, Countee Cullen, Doigherty, Celius Dougherty, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Harold D. Gilmore, Langston Hughes, Vincent R. Impellitteri, Philip James, Alfred Knopf, Gail Kubik, Theodore Lettvin, New York Woodwind Quintet, Paul Olefsky, Bernice Rapkin, Kenneth Spencer, Halsey Stevens, William Grant Still, Celia Stoerty, Howard Swanson and Maurice Wilk


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About American Music Festival

Conceived in 1939, the first WNYC American Music Festival hit the air in February 1940. For more than forty years, it was a station tradition of live events and concerts, reflecting "the culture of a peaceful people, in a land where men and women of any race and creed were free to compose and perform music based on any and all themes." From Lincoln to Washington's birthdays the festival's concerts filled WNYC's airwaves, providing listeners with the full range of live American music from classical, to folk, to jazz and everything in between both in-studio and from concert stages around the city.

The festival was a response to the dominant Euro-centric musical attitudes of the time. Reflecting on the festival's birth, station Director Morris Novik wrote in 1945, "It was obvious that something should be done to fill the gap that was a serious hindrance to the furthering of the cause of native American musical genius. There were no provisions for encouraging and fostering this talent, and only a very limited means of presentation of Americans works that deserved to be heard."

Four Objectives of the American Music Festival

  1. Provide a sounding board for talented young American musicians.
  2. Grant a hearing and performance to any meritorious works or compositions of native composers.
  3. Promote the cause of American classical music, which is heard all too rarely on concert programs.
  4. Interest the public in the appreciation of good American music.

In its first six years, listeners heard Morton Gould, Leonard Bernstein, Paul Bowles and Deems Taylor, some for the first time on radio. On the folk front, Woody Guthrie, Josh White, Burl Ives, and Pete Seeger were regular performers. In jazz, listeners heard from the likes of Benny Goodman, Sam Price and Albert Ammons.

The first ticket, to a "POP CONCERT," was for the All Star Army Band with Private Johnny Messner conducting and Private Buddy Moreno as vocalist. Also performing was the U.S. Maritime Service Orchestra with Ensign Philip Lang conducting.

The second ticket, part of the closing concert for the series, was for admission to a concert featuring the music of Aaron Copland. This program included:

  • "Dance of the Adolescent" with Aaron Copland and Leo Smith, pianos.
  • "As It Fell Upon A Day" performed by Shirley Sinclair, soprano; Anabel Hulme, flute; and Meyer Kupferman, clarinet
  • "Three Pieces from Our Town" with Aaron Copland, piano
  • "Danzon Cubano" with Aaron Copland and Leo Smit, pianos and Isaac Stern, violin

During a concert intermission at one of the early festivals, (the final concert of the 1941 season), Aaron Copland stated that the radio audience was key to developing American music. In fact, he closed his remarks by hoping for "bigger and better WNYC festivals in the future." Following his intermission speech, the Brooklyn Academy audience heard a world premiere of a choral work by another American composer, Roy Harris.

By the mid-1980s WNYC's American Music Festival had run its course. The last few festivals were a shadow of their former glory as eleven days of live concerts were compacted into a day-long "Americathon". This single day of performances was sandwiched between broadcasts of American music from the studios on record only.

In the early 21st century the days between Lincoln's and Washington's birthdays were still a time for WNYC to focus on American music. In fact, in 2001 the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) recognized WNYC last year with one of their first-ever Concert Music Awards. It honored WNYC for "75 years of enlightened broadcasting featuring the music of our time."

Thanks to the NYC Municipal Archives and its Director, Kenneth R. Cobb, and to Andy Lanset for his research and preservation work.


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