Born in Chicago, Margaret Bonds grew up in a musical household, studying music first with her mother, Estelle C. Bonds, who was an organist. Musical life in the city of Chicago was also very rich, and Bonds had the chance to study piano and composition with Florence Price while she was in high school. Bonds earned her BM and MM from Northwestern University and earned her first prize for composition in 1932 (the Wanamaker Prize for her song “Sea Ghost”). In 1933, Bonds performed Price’s piano concerto with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Also, before leaving Chicago, Bonds opened the Allied Arts Academy.
In 1939, Bonds moved to New York, marrying Lawrence Richardson and attending Juilliard Graduate School the following year. In New York, Bonds (who kept her mother’s maiden name as her own for life) worked to advance black musicians and composers and organized a chamber society dedicated to supporting the work of black composers and musicians.
Bonds’ output consists mainly of vocal music, though she also wrote several large-scale musical theatre works, including Shakespeare in Harlem (1959). Leontyne Price commissioned and recorded several spirituals arranged by Bonds.