Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Florence B. Price, African American Composer Born in Little Rock, Arkansas on April 9, 1887

[Florence Beatrice Smith Price]

Florence Beatrice Smith Price (1887-1953) was the first African American woman to have a symphony performed by a major orchestra. Marian Anderson was among many singers who used her arrangements of Negro spirituals.  Unpublished songs of the composer are now held in the Marian Anderson collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at the University of Pennsylvania.  Price was born and raised in Little Rock, where her mother, Florence Gulliver Smith, owned a restaurant, and her father, James H. Smith, was the city's only Black dentist. 

Dr. Dominique-René De Lerma writes: “Her first work was published when she was 11.” He continues: “In 1903, having graduated from Capitol High School, she entered the New England Conservatory (B.M., 1906, organ and piano performance) studying with Frederick S. Converse and George Whitefield Chadwick (music theory), and Henry M. Dunham (organ), starting to think seriously about composition.” Price taught for a year at Cotton Plant-Arkadelphia in Arkansas, and served on the faculties of Shorter College (1906-1910) and Atlanta's Clark University (1910-1912), before returning to Little Rock to teach music privately and compose. “In 1912 Florence B. Price married Thomas J. Price, an attorney in Little Rock. Prof. De Lerma tells us: Little Rock had been a comfortable city for Black residents, but racial problems began to develop and she moved with her husband, attorney Thomas J. Price, and their two daughters to Chicago in 1927 or 1928.” The marriage did not endure, and Price and her children found themselves in difficult financial circumstances for several years.

Rosalyn Story writes: "In the widely revered Wanamaker Competition in 1932, she won four prizes, including the top prize for a symphonic composition. (It was a banner year for Black women composers: Bonds, Price's student, also competed and won a prize.) Frederick Stock, then conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, presented Price's Symphony in E Minor for the Chicago World's Fair (Century of Progress Exposition) in 1933. It was the first time a symphony written by a Black woman has been performed by a major symphony orchestra." Critics raved unanimously. [Full Biography at]

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