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Florence Beatrice Price (née Smith; April 9, 1887 – June 3, 1953) was an American classical composer, pianist, organist and music teacher. Price is noted as the first African-American woman to be recognized as a symphonic composer, and the first to have a composition played by a major orchestra.[2]

Florence Price
Photograph of Price from a publication, c. 1942.
Florence Beatrice Smith

(1887-04-09)April 9, 1887
Little Rock, Arkansas, United States
DiedJune 3, 1953(1953-06-03) (aged 66)
Chicago, Illinois, United States
Years active1899–1952
Thomas J. Price (m. 1912)
Florence price signature.png



Childhood and youthEdit

She was born as Florence Beatrice Smith to Florence (Gulliver) and James H. Smith on April 9, 1887, in Little Rock, Arkansas,[3] one of three children in a mixed-race family. Despite racial issues of the era, her family was well respected and did well within their community. Her father was a dentist and her mother was a music teacher who guided Florence's early musical training.[4] She had her first piano performance at the age of four and had her first composition published at the age of 11.[2]

By the time she was 14, Florence had graduated from Capitol High School as valedictorian of her class. After high school, she later enrolled in the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, Massachusetts with a major in piano and organ. Initially, she identified as Mexican to avoid the prejudice people had toward African Americans at the time. At the Conservatory, she studied composition and counterpoint with composers George Chadwick and Frederick Converse.[2] Also while there, Smith wrote her first string trio and symphony. She graduated in 1906 with honors, and with both an artist diploma in organ and a teaching certificate.[5]


Smith returned to Arkansas, where she taught briefly before moving to Atlanta, Georgia, in 1910. There she became the head of the music department of what is now Clark Atlanta University, a historically black college. In 1912, she married Thomas J. Price, a lawyer. She moved back to Little Rock, Arkansas, where he had his practice.[4] After a series of racial incidents in Little Rock, particularly a lynching of a black man in 1927, the Price family decided to leave. Like many black families living in the Deep South, they moved north in the Great Migration to escape Jim Crow conditions, and settled in Chicago, a major industrial city.

There Florence Price began a new and fulfilling period in her composition career. She studied composition, orchestration, and organ with the leading teachers in the city, including Arthur Olaf Andersen, Carl Busch, Wesley La Violette, and Leo Sowerby. She published four pieces for piano in 1928. While in Chicago, Price was at various times enrolled at the Chicago Musical College, Chicago Teacher’s College, University of Chicago, and American Conservatory of Music, studying languages and liberal arts subjects as well as music. Financial struggles and abuse by her husband resulted in Price getting a divorce in 1931. She became a single mother to her two daughters. To make ends meet, she worked as an organist for silent film screenings and composed songs for radio ads under a pen name. During this time, Price lived with friends. She eventually moved in with her student and friend, Margaret Bonds, also a black pianist and composer. This friendship connected Price with writer Langston Hughes and contralto Marian Anderson, both prominent figures in the art world who aided in Price's future success as a composer.

Together, Price and Bonds began to achieve national recognition for their compositions and performances. In 1932, both Price and Bonds submitted compositions for the Wanamaker Foundation Awards. Price won first prize with her Symphony in E minor, and third for her Piano Sonata, earning her a $500 prize.[6] Bonds came in first place in the song category, with a song entitled "Sea Ghost." The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Frederick Stock, 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.[6][7][8][9]

A number of Price's other orchestral works were played by the WPA Symphony Orchestra of Detroit, the Chicago Women’s Symphony[4], and the Women's Symphony Orchestra of Chicago[10]. Price wrote other extended works for orchestra, chamber works, art songs, works for violin, organ anthems, piano pieces, spiritual arrangements, four symphonies, three piano concertos, and a violin concerto. Some of her more popular works are: "Three Little Negro Dances," "Songs to a Dark Virgin", "My Soul's Been Anchored in the Lord" for piano or orchestra and voice, and "Moon Bridge". Price made considerable use of characteristic African-American melodies and rhythms in many of her works. Her Concert Overture on Negro Spirituals, Symphony in E minor, and Negro Folksongs in Counterpoint for string quartet, all serve as excellent examples of her idiomatic work. Price was inducted into the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers in 1940 for her work as a composer. In 1949, Price published two of her spiritual arrangements, "I Am Bound for the Kingdom," and "I'm Workin’ on My Buildin'", and dedicated them to Marian Anderson, who performed them on a regular basis.

Personal life and deathEdit

In 1912, Price married attorney Thomas J. Price[1][citation needed] upon returning to Arkansas from Atlanta. Together, they had two daughters and a son; Florence (d. 1975[11]), Edith and Thomas Jr.[11] They raised their children in Chicago. On June 3, 1953, Price died from a stroke in Chicago, Illinois at age 66.

Rediscovery of worksEdit

Following her death, much of her work was overshadowed as new musical styles emerged that fit the changing tastes of modern society. Some of her work was lost, but as more African-American and female composers have gained attention for their works, so has Price. In 2001, the Women's Philharmonic created an album of some of her work. Pianist Karen Walwyn and The New Black Repertory Ensemble performed Price's Concerto in One Movement and Symphony in E minor in December 2011.[12][13]

In 2009, a substantial collection of her works and papers were found in an abandoned dilapidated house on the outskirts of St. Anne, Illinois.[14] These consisted of dozens of her scores, including her two violin concertos and her fourth symphony. As Alex Ross stated in The New Yorker in February 2018, "not only did Price fail to enter the canon; a large quantity of her music came perilously close to obliteration. That run-down house in St. Anne is a potent symbol of how a country can forget its cultural history."[15]

Composition styleEdit

Even though her training was steeped in European tradition, Price's music consists of mostly the American idiom and reveals her Southern roots.[4] 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,[16] Price began to incorporate elements of African-American spirituals, emphasizing the rhythm and syncopation of the spirituals rather than just using the text. Her melodies were blues-inspired and mixed with more traditional, European Romantic techniques. The weaving of tradition and modernism reflected the way life was for African Americans in large cities at the time.

Legacy and honorsEdit

Price Elementary School, Chicago.

In 1964, the Chicago Public Schools opened Florence B. Price Elementary School (also known Price Lit & Writing Elementary School) at 4351 South Drexel Boulevard in the North Kenwood neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois in her honor.[17] Price student body was predominately African-American. The school operated from 1964 until the school district decided to phase it out in 2011 due to poor academic performance which ultimately led to its closing in 2013. The school housed a piano owned by Price. The school building currently houses a local church as of 2019.[18] In February 2019, The University of Arkansas Honors College held a concert honoring Price.[19][20]




  • Piano Concerto in D minor (1932-34); often referred to as Piano Concerto in One Movement although the work is in three separate movements
  • Violin Concerto No. 1 in D major (1939)
  • Violin Concerto No. 2 in D minor (1952)
  • Rhapsody/Fantasie for piano and orchestra (date unknown, possibly incomplete)

Other Orchestral WorksEdit

  • Ethiopia's Shadow in America (1929-32)[21]
  • Mississippi River Suite (1934); although labelled as a "suite", the work is cast in one continuous large-scale movement, in which several famous Mississippi River Songs are quoted, such as “Get Down, Moses”, “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen” and "Deep River".
  • Chicago Suite (date unknown)
  • Colonial Dance Symphony (date unknown)
  • Concert Overture No. 1 (date unknown); based on the spiritual "Sinner, Please Don’t Let This Harvest Pass"[22]
  • Concert Overture No. 2 (1943); based on three spirituals ("Go Down Moses", "Ev'ry Time I Feel the Spirit", "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen")[23]
  • The Oak, tone poem (1943); sometimes referred to as Songs of the Oak
  • Suite of Negro Dances (performed in 1951;[24] orchestral version of the Three Little Negro Dances for piano, 1933;[25]); also referred to as Suite of Dances
  • Dances in the Canebrakes (orchestral version of the homonymous piano work, 1953)


  • "The Moon Bridge" (M. R. Gamble), SSA, 1930;
  • "The New Moon", SSAA, 2 pf, 1930;
  • "The Wind and the Sea" (P. L. Dunbar), SSAATTBB, pf, str qt, 1934;
  • "Witch of the Meadow" (Gamble), SSA (1947);
  • "Sea Gulls", female chorus, fl, cl, vn, va, vc, pf, by 1951;
  • "Nature's Magic" (Gamble), SSA (1953);
  • "Song for Snow" (E. Coatsworth), SATB (1957);
  • "Abraham Lincoln walks at midnight" (V. Lindsay), mixed vv, orch, org;
  • "After the 1st and 6th Commandments", SATB;
  • "Communion Service", F, SATB, org;
  • "Nod" (W. de la Mare), TTBB;
  • Resignation (Price), SATB;
  • "Song of Hope" (Price);
  • "Spring Journey", SSA, str qt

Solo vocal (all with piano)Edit

  • "Dreamin' Town" (Dunbar), 1934;
  • 4 Songs, B-Bar, 1935;
  • "My Dream" (Hughes), 1935;
  • "Dawn's Awakening" (J. J. Burke), 1936;
  • "Songs to the Dark Virgin" (L. Hughes), (1941);
  • "Hold Fast to Dreams" (Hughes), 1945;
  • "Night" (L. C. Wallace), (1946);
  • "Out of the South Blew a Wind" (F.C. Woods), (1946);
  • "An April Day" (J. F. Cotter), (1949);
  • "The Envious Wren" (A. and P. Carey);
  • "Fantasy in Purple" (Hughes);
  • "Feet o' Jesus" (Hughes);
  • "Forever" (Dunbar);
  • "The Glory of the Day was in her Face" (J. W. Johnson);
  • "The Heart of a Woman" (G. D. Johnson); Love-in-a-Mist (Gamble);
  • "Nightfall" (Dunbar); "Resignation" (Price), also arr. chorus;
  • "Song of the Open Road; Sympathy" (Dunbar);
  • "To my Little Son" (J. J. Davis);
  • "Travel's End" (M. F. Hoisington);
  • about 90 other works

Chamber musicEdit

  • String Quartet (No. 1) in G major (1929)[26]
  • String Quartet (No. 2) in A minor (published in 1935)[27]
  • Piano Quintet in E minor (1936)
  • Piano Quintet in A minor
  • Five Folksongs in Counterpoint for String Quartet
  • Suite (Octet) for Brasses and Piano (1930)[28]
  • Moods, for Flute, Clarinet and Piano (1953)
  • Spring Journey, for 2 violins, viola, cello, double bass and piano
  • Various pieces for violin and piano

Works for pianoEdit

  • At the Cotton Gin (1927); published by G. Schirmer (New York), 1928
  • Fantasie nègre (1929); based on the spiritual "Sinner, please don't let this harvest pass"
  • Cotton Dance (1931)
  • Piano Sonata in E minor (1932)
  • 3 Little Negro Dances (1933); also arranged for concert band (1939); for two pianos (1949); and for orchestra (before 1951)
  • Tecumseh (published by Carl Fischer, New York, 1935)[29]
  • 3 Sketches for little pianists (1937)
  • Arkansas Jitter (1938)
  • Bayou Dance (1938)
  • Dance of the Cotton Blossoms (1938)
  • Rocking chair (1939)
  • 2 Fantasies on Folk Tunes (date unknown)
  • Memories of Dixieland (1947); won Holstein Award, 1947
  • Rock-a-bye (1947)
  • Dances in the Canebrakes (1953); also orchestrated
  • about 10 other works
  • about 70 teaching pieces

Works for Organ (supplied by Calvert Johnson)

  • Adoration in The Organ Portfolio vol. 15/86 (Dec. 1951), Dayton OH: Lorenz Publishing Co., 34–35.
  • Andante, July 24, 1952
  • Andantino
  • Allegretto
  • Cantilena March 10, 1951
  • Caprice
  • Dainty Lass, by November 19, 1936
  • Festal March
  • First Sonata for Organ, 1927
  • The Hour Glass [formerly Sandman]. Paired with Retrospection as No. 1
  • Hour of Peace or Hour of Contentment or Gentle Heart, November 16, 1951
  • In Quiet Mood [formerly Evening and then Impromptu]. New York: Galaxy Music Corp, 1951 (dated Aug. 7, 1941)
  • Little Melody
  • Little Pastorale
  • Offertory in The Organ Portfolio vol. 17/130 (1953). Dayton OH: Lorenz Publishing Co., 1953
  • Passacaglia and Fugue, January, 1927
  • A Pleasant Thought, December 10, 1951
  • Prelude and Fantasie, by 1942
  • Retrospection [formerly An Elf on a Moonbeam]. Paired with The Hour Glass as No. 2
  • Steal Away to Jesus, by November 19, 1936
  • Suite No. 1, by April 6, 1942
  • Tempo moderato [no title], seriously damaged and possibly incomplete]
  • Variations on a Folksong
  • Compositions that have not been located.

Arrangements of spiritualsEdit

  • "My soul's been anchored in de Lord", 1v, pf (1937), arr. 1v, orch, arr. chorus, pf;
  • "Nobody knows the trouble I see", pf (1938);
  • "Were you there when they crucified my Lord?", pf (1942);
  • "I am bound for the kingdom", 1v, pf (1948);
  • "I'm workin' on my building", 1v, pf job at Florida
  • "Heav'n bound soldier", male chorus, 1949 [2 arrs.];
  • "Variations on a Folksong (Peter, go ring dem bells)", org (1996);
  • "I couldn't hear nobody pray", SSAATTBB;
  • "Save me, Lord, save me", 1v, pf;
  • "Trouble done come my way", 1v, pf;
  • 12 other works, 1v, pf
    • MSS of 40 songs in US-PHu; other MSS in private collections; papers and duplicate MSS in U. of Arkansas, Florida
    • Principal publishers: Fischer, Gamble-Hinged, Handy, McKinley, Presser


  • Art Songs by American Composers / Yolanda Marcoulescou-Stern. Gasparo Records, 1993.
  • Black Diamonds/ Althea Waites. Cambria Records, 1993.
  • Florence Price: The Oak, Mississippi River Suite, and Symphony no. 3/ Women’s Philharmonic. Koch International Classics, 2001. Reprinted 2008.
  • Lucille Field Sings Songs by American Women Composers. Cambria Records, 2006.
  • Negro Speaks of Rivers /Odekhiren Amaize, David Korevaar. Musician’s Showcase, 2000.
  • Chicago Renaissance Woman: Florence B. Price Organ Works; Calcante CAL 014 1997
  • Florence B. Price: Concerto in One Movement and Symphony in E minor; Albany TROY1295, 2011.
  • Florence B. Price: Violin Concertos Nos 1 (D major - 1939) and 2 (D minor - 1952) / Er-Gene Kahng, Janacek Philharmonic, Ryan Cockerham. Albany TROY1706, 2018.
  • Florence B. Price: Symphonies Nos 1 (E minor - 1932) and 4 (D minor - 1945) / Fort Smith Symphony, John Peter. Naxos American Classics, 2018.
  • Florence B. Price: Dances in the Canebrakes (Nimble Feet / Tropical Noon / Silk Hat and Walking Cane) / Chicago Sinfonietta, Mei-Ann Chen. Album Project W - Works by Woman Composers. Cedille Records, 2019.


  1. ^ a b Florence Price
  2. ^ a b c Slonimsky, N. (ed.), The Concise Edition of Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, 8th edn, New York: Schirmer, 1994, p. 791.
  3. ^ Slonimsky (1994) gives 1888.
  4. ^ a b c d Walker-Hill, Helen (1893). Piano Music by Black Women Composers. Darby, Pennsylvania: Greenwood Press. pp. 76–77.
  5. ^ Slonimsky and agree on 1906.
  6. ^ a b Price, Florence (January 1, 2008) [1932]. Brown, Rae Linda; Shirley, Wayne D. (eds.). Symphonies nos. 1 and 3. A-R Editions. pp. xxxviii–xlv. ISBN 0895796384.
  7. ^ Oteri, Frank J. (January 17, 2012). "Sounds Heard: Florence B. Price—Concerto in One Movement; Symphony in E Minor". NewMusicBox. Retrieved September 16, 2015.
  8. ^ "The Price of Admission: A Musical Biography of Florence Beatrice Price". WQXR-FM. February 6, 2013. Retrieved September 16, 2015.
  9. ^ Baranello, Micaela (February 9, 2018). "Welcoming a Black Female Composer Into the Canon. Finally". The New York Times. Retrieved February 10, 2018.
  10. ^ Brown, Rae Linda (1993). "The Woman's Symphony Orchestra of Chicago and Florence B. Price's Piano Concerto in One Movement". American Music. 11 (2): 185. JSTOR 3052554.
  11. ^ a b Research Frontiers - Who was Florence Price
  12. ^ "Florence Price: Symphony No. 3, Mississippi River". Women's Philharmonic Advocacy. Retrieved July 6, 2016.
  13. ^ McQuiston, Bob (February 28, 2012). "Classical Lost and Found: Florence Price Rediscovered". NPR. Retrieved July 6, 2016.
  14. ^ "Florence Beatrice Smith Price (1887–1953) - Encyclopedia of Arkansas". Retrieved 2019-03-27.
  15. ^ Ross, Alex, "The Rediscovery of Florence Price", The New Yorker, February 5, 2018.
  16. ^ Baranello, Micaela (2018-02-09). "Welcoming a Black Female Composer Into the Canon. Finally". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-03-27.
  17. ^ Symphonies nos. 1 and 3 By Florence Price
  18. ^ DNAinfo - Bronzeville Pastor Reviving Empty School - September 2013
  19. ^ Honors College to Host Performance of Florence Price Violin Concerto and Duos - January 22, 2019
  20. ^ Florence Price
  21. ^ Recorded by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales under conductor Daniel Blendulf; broadcast for International Women's Day on BBC Radio 3's Live in Concert program of March 8, 2015.
  22. ^ Page on, published by G Schirmer Inc.
  23. ^ Page on the publisher's website,
  24. ^ Article on the blog
  25. ^ Florence Beatrice Smith Price Papers Addendum
  26. ^ Article on, 29 November 2018
  27. ^ Article on
  28. ^ "The Musical Artistry of Florence Price: Hidden Figure No More", by Prof. Linda Holzer
  29. ^ List of works on

Additional sourcesEdit

  • Ammer, Christine. Unsung: A History of Women in American Music. Portland Oregon, Amadeus Press, 2001
  • Brown, Rae Linda. "Price, Florence Smith". Accessed March 15, 2007.
  • Brown, Linda Rae. "William Grant Still, Florence Price, and William Dawson: Echoes of the Harlem Renaissance." In Samuel A. Floyd, Jr (ed.), Black Music in the Harlem Renaissance, Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1990, pp. 71–86.
  • "Florence Beatrice Smith Price", Retrieved December 1, 2014.
  • Perkins, Holly Ellistine. Biographies of Black Composers and Songwriters; A Supplementary Textbook. Iowa: Wm. C. Brown Publishers, 1990.
  • "Price, Florence Beatrice", Encyclopedia of World Biography. 2006. December 1, 2014.
  • Slonimsky, Nicolas (ed.) (1994), The Concise Edition of Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, 8th edn, New York: Schirmer, p. 791.

External linksEdit

Further readingEdit

  • Brown, Linda R. (1987). Selected orchestral music of Florence B. Price (1888–1953) in the context of her life and work. Yale University.
  • Green, Mildred Denby (1983). Black women composers : a genesis (1. print. ed.). Boston: Twayne Publishers. ISBN 9780805794502.
  • Phelps, Shirelle; Smith, Jessie C. (1992). Notable Black American women. Detroit: Gale Research.