Florence Beatrice Price (April 9, 1887 – June 3, 1953) was an American classical composer. She was the first African-American woman to be recognized as a symphonic composer, and the first to have a composition played by a major orchestra.
She was was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, one of three children in a mixed-race family.
By the time she was 14, Florence had graduated from Capitol High School at the top of her class and was enrolled in the New England Conservatory of Music with a major in piano and organ. Initially, she pretended to be Mexican to avoid prejudice against African-Americans. At the Conservatory, she studied composition and counterpoint with composers George Chadwick and Frederick Converse. Also while there, she wrote her first string trio and symphony. She graduated in 1906 with honors and both an artist diploma in organ and a teaching certificate.
In 1932, she submitted compositions for Wanamaker Foundation Awards, and won first prize with her Symphony in E minor, and third for her Piano Sonata, earning her a $500 prize. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra premiered the Symphony on June 15, 1933, making Price’s piece the first composition by an African-American woman to be played by a major orchestra.
Even though her training was steeped in European tradition, Price's music consists of mostly the American idiom and reveals her Southern roots. She wrote with a vernacular style, using sounds and ideas that fit the reality of urban society. Being deeply religious, she frequently used the music of the African-American church as material for her arrangements. At the urging of her mentor George Whitefield Chadwick, Price began to incorporate elements of African-American spirituals, emphasizing the rhythm and syncopation of the spirituals. Her melodies were blues-inspired and mixed with more traditional, European Romantic techniques.
Three photos of Florence Price are attached below.
Musical notes given in the First Comment.