Florence Beatrice Price (April 9, 1887 – June 3, 1953) was an African-American composer, pianist, organist, and music educator. She was born in Little Rock, AR and attended the New England Conservatory of Music. Price is the first African-American woman to have a composition played by a major orchestra. She composed over 300 works, including four symphonies, four concertos, as well as numerous art songs, chamber music works, and pieces for solo instruments.
Her music education was firmly rooted in the European tradition, though Price composed in a vernacular style, using sounds and textures that highlighted the sound of urban society. She often incorporated elements of the spiritual and drew inspiration from the music of the African-American church.
Florence Price’s Symphony #1 won her First Price in the Rodman Wanamaker Competition in 1932. Often compared with Dvorak’s 9th Symphony, her melodies are deeply inspired by spirituals.
Florence Price was known for using melodies and rhythms that were characteristic of African-American music in many of her works. Of her piano piece Three Little Negro Dances, Price wrote: “In all types of Negro music, rhythm is of preeminent importance. In the dance, it is a compelling, onward-sweeping force that tolerates no interruption… All phases of truly Negro activity—whether work or play, singing or praying—are more than apt to take on a rhythmic quality.”
The Legacy of Florence B Price
In 1964, the Chicago Public Schools opened the Florence B. Price Elementary School, which operated until 2013 when it was closed by the school district. The building currently houses a local church. There have since been numerous concerts devoted to her works and 2019 saw the inaugural International Florence Price Festival. For those who wish to learn more about her, there is now a website dedicated to Florence Price and her music. The website is maintained by Dr Karen Walwyn, who herself is an incredibly accomplished pianist and prolific recording artist.
Sheet Music of Florence Price
As someone who came up in a mix of classical and jazz background, and having toured extensively with an ensemble dedicated to preserving the African-American spiritual, Florence Price’s music touches me deeply. I hope that musicians and listeners will seek out her music more and that many more people will discover the great beauty she brought into this world.
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