The Hidden History of African American Composers
Updated: Apr 30
In Honor of Women’s History Month: Florence Beatrice Price
I often listen to classical music while writing fiction. One afternoon, I was listening to the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Yannick Nezet-Seguin and one particular piece caught my attention. I stopped writing to pay more attention to the music. My first thought was that this type of music that would be the perfect score if my first novel ever became a motion picture. I was so taken with this music (You will find a link at the end of this blog.) that I looked up the composer. This is how I came to know of Florence Beatrice Price.
Born in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1887, Florence was taught piano by her mother, who was a music teacher. She played her first piano recital at four years old. By age eleven, her first composition was published. Florence wasn’t just musically gifted, she was also an exceptional student, graduating high school as Valedictorian at age fourteen. After high school she attended the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, earning her Bachelor’s Degree in music in 1906. She later became the head of Clark Atlanta University’s Music Department in Georgia until she married. She and her husband briefly moved back to Arkansas.
Florence Price was the daughter of mixed parentage. The political climate of the Jim Crow south at that time was infected with racism, vitriol, and even lynching. The Price family decided to move to Chicago in 1927. She would eventually divorce her husband, who was said to have been abusive.
On her own in Chicago, Florence was able to focus her attention on music education and furthering her own music career. She was the first African American composer of classical music. She has also been recognized as the first female composer whose composition was played by a major orchestra.
Although during her lifetime, Florence Beatrice Price may not have achieved the amount of recognition that she deserved, since her death in June 1953 in Chicago, she has been discovered and widely played and written about.