Florence Beatrice Price was born in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1887. Her mother worked a variety of jobs while her father was the city’s only black dentist. At the age of four, Florence played in her first piano recital. By eleven, she had her first composition published. In 1904, Price graduated as high school valedictorian and left Little Rock to attend the New England Conservatory.
In 1906, Florence earned her Bachelor in Music degree from New England Conservatory. She was the only one of 2,000 students to complete a double major in organ and piano performance. Over the next few years, she taught at the Cotton Plant-Arkadelphia Presbyterian Academy and at Clark University in Atlanta. In 1912, Florence returned to Little Rock and married Attorney Thomas J. Price.
Mounting Racial Tensions
Price was refused admission to the all-white Arkansas Music Teachers Association because she was black. Despite the rejection, she founded the Little Rock Club of Musicians. Due to the increased violence against black people, Florence moved with her husband and their two daughters to Chicago in 1927.
Around 1928, the G. Schirmer and McKinley publishing companies began to publish her music. Unfortunately in that same year she had divorced her husband and moved in with her friend Margaret Bonds. Price later remarried Pusey Dell Arnett.
Breaking down Barriers
In 1932, Price submitted compositions for the Wanamaker competition and won first prize for her Symphony in E minor and second prize for her Piano Sonata. She gained national recognition and the attention from the Chicago Symphony. On June 15, 1933, Florence Beatrice Price became the first black female composer to have a symphony performed by a major American orchestra.
Price continued her education at the American Conservatory of Music, Chicago Teachers College, the University of Chicago and Chicago Musical College. She studied composition and orchestration. She graduated in 1934 and studied with Carl Busch and Wesley LaViolette.
Chicago Music Association
While at Chicago Musical College, Florence Price met baritone Theodore Charles Stone who was a member of the Chicago Music Association. CMA aimed to provide performance venues for classically-trained “Negro” musicians who were denied performance opportunities in major concert halls. Ted Stone would later encourage Price to join CMA.
Florence made her living in a variety of ways. She made money through sheet music sales, composed popular songs, played organ for silent films and was an orchestrator for WGN radio. The U. S. Marine Band, the Bronx Symphony, and the Pittsburgh Symphony also performed her music.
Price continued to compose throughout the 1940s and early 1950s. She wrote two concertos for violin and orchestra, and two additional symphonies. Unfortunately Symphony No. 2 is missing. English conductor, Sir John Barbirolli, commissioned Florence to compose a suite for strings. The piece was premiered with the famed Hallé Orchestra in Manchester.
Death and legacy
On June 3, 1953 Florence B. Price had died from complications of a stroke in Chicago. In 2010, the Center for Black Music Research commissioned Trevor Weston to reconstruct the long-lost orchestral score for Price’s Concerto in One Movement for Piano and Orchestra. The Concerto and her Symphony No. 1 in E Minor were performed at Chicago’s Harris Theater for Music and Dance on February 17, 2011.