Florence Price was an African-American classical composer. She was born April 9, 1887, in Little Rock. She was the first Black woman to have a composition performed by a major orchestra in the United States after she won first prize in the Wanamaker Competition with her Symphony in E minor. Despite her accomplishments, her music was largely forgotten after her death, and it was not until recently that her contributions to classical music began to receive the recognition they deserve.
Florence Price showed an early talent for music. Her mother was a music teacher, and she began teaching Florence to play the piano when she was just four years old. Florence went on to study at the New England Conservatory of Music, where she earned a diploma in organ performance and a teaching certificate. She also studied composition with George Whitefield Chadwick, one of the leading American composers of the time.
Price’s early compositions were largely in the Romantic style, with lush harmonies and sweeping melodies. She was also influenced by the folk music of the Black community, and many of her compositions incorporate elements of spirituals, blues, and other traditional styles. In the 1920s, Price moved to Chicago, where she became involved in the city’s vibrant cultural scene. She composed music for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and her works were performed by many other prominent ensembles.
Despite her success, Price faced significant barriers due to her race and gender. She often had to work extra hard to get her music noticed, and she frequently faced discrimination from critics and musicians who did not take her seriously. She also struggled financially, as many orchestras were reluctant to pay for the performance of works by Black composers. Nevertheless, she persisted in her work, and her music continued to be performed by a variety of ensembles.
Price’s legacy has only recently begun to be fully appreciated. In 2009, her manuscripts were found in a home in Illinois. They are now in the Special Collections of the University of Arkansas Fayetteville. In recent years, there has been a renewed interest in her music, with many orchestras and ensembles performing her works and recording them for posterity. She has been hailed as a trailblazer for African-American women in classical music, and her music has been recognized as an important contribution to the American musical canon.
In addition to her accomplishments as a composer, Price was also a devoted mother and community leader. She was active in a number of African-American organizations, and she worked to promote the interests of young musicians and composers. She also served as a mentor to other Black women, many of whom looked up to her as a role model and inspiration.
The Light on the Hill concert series will present a program of American music on May 4, 2023, in the sanctuary at FUPC. This free concert will include music of Florence Price as well as Samuel Barber and other American composers. Stephen Caldwell will direct Schola Cantorum, a choral group of 51 students from the University of Arkansas.
The concert is open to the public, and a reception will follow the performance.