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Who is Florence Price?

Who is Florence Price?

Credit - MyCatIsAChonk under CC BY-SA 4.0 License - No changes were made to the image.

By Reena Joseph


The Impact of Women in Music History

Throughout history, women have made significant impacts on the music industry. You have Ella Fitzgerald – also dubbed as the “Queen of Jazz” – who became the first African-American woman to win a Grammy Award; violin instructor Dorothy DeLay, who mentored a number of the world’s finest violinists; and Miriam Abramson who co-founded Atlantic Records, to name a few. The legacies that they left behind have shaped the music industry and prompted scholars and musicians to study their lives and work. 

Introduction to Florence Price

Along the same vein, another musical luminary worth studying is Florence Price, a renowned classical pianist and composer. Her body of work continues to be appreciated today with various orchestral performances of her compositions and recent discoveries of her musical works. Below, we take a look at the life and works of Florence Price and where you can find more information about her.

Life and Works of Florence Price

Born on April 9, 1887, in Little Rock, Arkansas, Florence Beatrice Smith’s proclivity for music started at a young age, thanks to the training and guidance provided by her mother, who also happened to be a music teacher. She gave her first piano performance at age four and published her very first composition at age 11. At 15, she enrolled in the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, where she pursued a double major in organ and piano – the only one among 2,000 students to do so. She started teaching in Georgia in 1910 before returning to Little Rock after marrying Thomas J. Price.

Florence Price's Musical Achievements

After moving to Chicago, Florence published four piano compositions in 1928. Then, in 1933, music critic Maude Roberts George paid Florence $250 for her Symphony No. 1 in E minor composition, which the Chicago Symphony Orchestra performed at the Chicago World’s Fair. This marked a historic moment in her career, making her the first Black woman whose music was performed by a major American orchestra. She continued to write music, with her Symphony No. 3 composition – completed in 1938 – fusing African-American styles with classical music by incorporating jazz and blues themes and an African-American dance style called Juba. In 1953, she passed away at age 66.

Unique Elements of Florence Price's Music

What sets Florence’s music apart is the combination of the European classical tradition and the distinctive melodies of African-American folk tunes. Since she was also a religious person, Florence also infused some of her musical pieces with African-American church influences. The styles of prominent European Romantic composers like Tchaikovsky and Dvořák also influenced her.

Florence Price's Influences and Inspirations

Florence also took inspiration from some of the best Black poets of her era such as Georgia Douglas Johnson, Langston Hughes, and Joseph Seamon Cotter Jr. She even created musical settings based on Jessie Belle Rittenhouse’s Debts, which talked about love, and Graham Lee Hemminger’s Tobacco.

Rediscovery of Florence Price's Works

Today, the works of Florence continue to captivate audiences worldwide, and this renewed popularity can be traced back to an unexpected discovery. In 2009, Darrell and Vicki Gatwood were preparing to renovate an abandoned house in St. Anne, Illinois, when they stumbled upon piles of musical documents, personal writings, and books. Upon closer look, the two saw that Florence Price owned these materials and that the dilapidated home was once the summer house of the late composer. These documents, as it turned out, comprised dozens of Florence’s works that were originally thought to be lost. The unexpected unearthing of her compositions ignited a renaissance of some sort, prompting many to study more about the prolific composer’s life and works.

Modern Recordings and Performances

Two of the musical pieces rediscovered in Florence’s summer home, the Violin Concertos Nos. 1 and 2, were recorded by Albany Records. Samantha Ege, a musicologist, also made use of Florence’s discovered musical archive to reassemble the latter’s solo piano compositions like the Fantasie Nègre No. 3 in F minor, which was originally thought to be incomplete. She eventually found the missing pages that seemed to go with the first two sheets of the Fantasie Nègre and recorded the piece which was first released during International Women’s Day in 2021. Recently, Florence’s Symphony No. 1 in E minor was also performed by the Chineke! Orchestra during their North American tour, which included performances at the Lincoln Center and Jordan Hall in Boston, the same place where Florence once performed as a student at the New England Conservatory. This renewed and sustained hype for Florence’s work is a testament to her excellence and legacy.

Celebrating Florence Price's Legacy

Florence’s Fantasie Nègre, which is based on the spiritual Sinner, Please Don’t Let This Harvest Pass, is one among the many works of Florence that showcases African-American folk melodies. Meanwhile, her Symphony No. 1 incorporates a slow movement that is complemented by cathedral chimes and African beats. Florence’s Symphony No. 3, which was commissioned during the height of the Great Depression, incorporated the African-American Juba dance, which showcased her roots yet again. Even My Soul’s Been Anchored in de Lord, one of Florence’s most famous songs, which was even performed on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1939, reflects the composer’s Christian life. Florence’s breadth of compositions is thus a testament to her life and creativity.

Comprehensive Overview of Florence Price's Compositions

Overall, Florence Price’s body of work consists of 300 compositions, including symphonies, piano pieces, and choral works. Her oeuvre is characterized by her celebration of Black culture and heritage that incorporated African-American folk traditions. Today, nine decades after it was first introduced to the world, her Symphony No. 1 composition continues to be performed by orchestras – a testament to its timeless melodic excellence.

Resources for Learning More About Florence Price

If you’re looking to read more about Florence Price and music history in general, here’s where you can access information on the subject:

Accessing Information on Florence Price

Digital libraries have made it easier to access books, especially if you’re looking for a one-stop shop for all music-related resources. The digital library Everand has a rich catalog of ebooks on Florence Price and even on music history, such as Janet Nichols Lynch’s Florence Price: American Composer and R. Ryan Endris’ The History of Classical Music, that you can access for a minimal subscription fee. The app also provides a personalized reading experience by allowing you to annotate and highlight text so you can learn better, and it also has podcasts on music history from the Music History Today Network, where you can have a fuller picture of Florence Price’s legacy in music. 

Alternative Resources for Music History

Alternatively, Libby hosts a diverse range of music titles, including Karin Pendle’s Women & Music and Shannon Baker Moore’s History of Music. Libby also allows you to read at night or in sepia mode for a more comfortable experience, and it hosts audiobooks that discuss music history, such as Robert Philip’s A Little History of Music. Suppose you’re looking for other podcasts that tackle women’s contributions to music and history in general. In that case, you can also try Apple Podcasts’ What’sHerName hosted by Dr. Katie Nelson and Olivia Meikle. 

Celebrating Florence Price's Influence

Rooted in showcasing African-American culture, the impressive body of work by Florence Price remains influential today. These resources can help you learn more about her and the history of music in general. For more articles like this, visit The Long Island Violin Shop website.

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