Florence Price

1887 - 1953

The first black American woman to have an orchestral piece played by a major American orchestra, Florence Bea Price’s reputation grew to importance in the 1930s alongside her colleagues William Grant Still and William Dawson.

About

Born in Little Rock, Arkansas, Price began her studies at New England Conservatory starting at the age of 16 and took private lessons from George Whitfield Chadwick as well. After earning her Artist’s Diploma in organ and a piano teacher’s diploma, she returned to the South and taught in two schools before heading the music department at Clark University in Atlanta. She married in 1912, returning to Little Rock for several years, and in 1926, Price and her family moved to Chicago.

In Chicago, she began studying at the American Conservatory, initiating a compositionally prolific and creative period of her life. In 1932, she rose to national prominence when her Symphony in E minor won the Wanamaker competition and was performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. A short while later, Marian Anderson performed Price’s My Soul’s Been Anchored in de Lord and Songs to the Dark Virgin, increasing Price’s fame. She continued to teach and compose up until her death.

Price is best known for her songs, sung by many prominent singers of her day, including Leontyne Price, Blanche Thebom, and Etta Moten. Her compositional style combines contemporary influences, such as those of the Harlem Renaissance and African-American cultural heritage, with neo-Romanticism, which was popular among composers at that time. According to the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, over 300 of her compositions, mostly songs and piano pieces, still remain unpublished.

--Christie Finn

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