“Music, like religion, runs deep.”
Classical music is an extended art form that stems back from hundreds of years. From Tchaikovsky concertos, to Mozart requiems, to Brahms symphonies, it is a style of music that tugs at the hearts of it’s listeners through interesting lines and motifs. However, all these classical composers have one thing in common. They were all white men, a common theme present in makeup of composers in the overall classical period. However, one African American woman would change that. And not until much later, however, as most of her works weren’t discovered until the 21st century. Her name is Florence Price.
Born on April 9, 1887 in Little Rock, Arkansas, she was inspired by a family of trendsetters for the African American race. Her father in particular, was the city’s first doctor that was a person of color, and it was said according to Price’s letters that the governor was his secret patient. She was rarely deterred or discouraged by her skin color, as she excelled at the New England Conservatory, studying in the competitive composition studio of well-known George Whitfield Chadwick. However, her mother, knowing that Price was mixed, often concealed her true race, as she was listed as being from “Pueblo, Mexico” in her graduating recital program.
However, shortly after her time at the New England Conservatory, she became well-known for her arrangements of spirituals, following in Antonin Dvorak’s steps in contributing to the African American stream of music. Marian Anderson, a famous example, closed her historic 1939 concert with Price’s breathtaking arrangement of “My Soul’s Been Anchored in De Lord”. She was the first American American woman to have her Symphony in E Minor performed in 1933, specifically by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Florence Price truly set the bar firmly for African-American representation in classical music, inspiring other composers of color to follow suit.
Her death in 1953 caused her to go under the radar, with many other white composers overshadowing her limited fame. Due to systemic racism and white supremacy in this time period, her well-deserved accolades and achievements were never given. However, a group of middle school students sparked the search and recognition of her works and achievements, eventually publishing the book called, “Who is Florence Price?” Although some of her works have been discovered, such as her Ethiopia’s Shadow in America (discovered 2015) and her Fantasie No. 1 for Violin and Piano (discovered 2021),, there is so much work to do. The search for her works and certain elements of her life still continues today.
Davis, Lizzie. “The Inspirational Life of Composer Florence Price – and Why Her Story Still Matters Today.” Classic FM, 2 Feb. 2022, https://www.classicfm.com/discover-music/florence-price/.
Stone, Erika. “‘Who Is Florence Price?" Spotlights Black Symphony Composer.” The Black Wall Street Times, 7 Dec. 2021, https://theblackwallsttimes.com/2021/12/07/who-is-florence-price-spotlights-black-symphony-composer/.
Times, New York. Welcoming a Black Female Composer into the Canon. Finally. (Published 2018). New York Times, https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.nytimes.com/2018/02/09/arts/music/florence-price-arkansas-symphony-concerto.amp.html.