Born in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1887, Florence Price is known as the first African-American woman to achieve national status as a composer. Being refused musical instruction by white teachers, Price was guided and taught by her mother early on, playing in her first piano recital at the age of four, and publishing her first composition at 11. After graduating first in her high school class, Price left Little Rock in 1904 to attend the New England Conservatory where she double majored in organ and piano performance and earned her bachelor’s degree in 1906.
After leaving Boston, Price lived and worked in Arkansas and Georgia as a music educator until 1927 when Price moved to Chicago with her husband and children to escape the dangerous Jim Crow conditions in the south. There, she studied with leading teachers and published four pieces for piano in 1928. Price divorced her husband in 1931, and in order to make ends meet as a newly single mother, she worked as an organist at silent film screenings and wrote songs for radio ads under a pseudonym. During this time, Price also composed more than 300 works including symphonies, concertos for violin and piano, arrangements of spirituals, art songs, and chamber works. In 1932, Price won first prize in the Wanamaker Competition with her Symphony in E minor and second prize for her Piano Sonata. Her Symphony was a blend of African-American and European traditions, with “portentous sweep and lyrical melodies”. Frederick Stock, music director of the Chicago Symphony, became a supporter of her music and programmed the work in June of 1933, making Price the first African-American woman to have a work performed by a major U.S. orchestra.
Price continued composing, though successes became scarce. When Price died suddenly in 1953, her music, which was largely unpublished, fell into obscurity, and the scores were presumably lost. However, in line with her legacy of resilience, in 2009 a substantial collection of her works, including five hours of piano music, and two violin concertos, were found in her abandoned home in St. Anne, IL.
Research by Anita Gosevska, program note by Allison Lehman.
Narrated by Ella Beatty @ellabeattyy