Florence Price


“Unfortunately the work of a woman composer is preconceived by many to be light, frothy, lacking in depth, logic and virility.

Add to that the incident of race — I have Colored blood in my veins — and you will understand some of the difficulties that confront one in such a position . . .

I ask no concessions because of race or sex, and am willing to abide by a decision based solely on [the] worth of my work.

Will you be kind enough to  examine a score of mine?”


That’s Florence Price in November 1943, at the age of 56 writing a third letter to Serge Koussevitzky, music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and a well-known advocate for American music, asking him to consider performing her scores.

No performances resulted from her letters sent over a nine-year period, 1935-44.

The music of this intriguing, fascinating American composer – a composer whose music invites wide exposure – features prominently in the opening concerts of the MusicTORONTO Piano and Strings Series this season.


The Pacifica Quartet opens the Strings series with Price’s G major Quartet (1929).

And Michelle Cann, who both studied and now teaches at the Curtis Institute, performs Price’s prizewinning E minor Piano Sonata from 1932.


I have been asked to write increasingly about Price over the past five years or so, particularly during the Pandemic when musicians had time to take on new repertoire.  In the meantime, a new generation has already caught up.

A timely book was published last year by Schirmer (who also hold rights to Price’s music).  It was written and illustrated by Middle School students at Kaufman Music Center’s Special Music School, a K-12 NYC public school that teaches music as a core subject.

“In classical music there isn’t a lot of diversity, and being a woman of color myself, it’s inspiring to see somebody who’s made it out there,” says 14-year-old violinist and co-author Rebecca Beato.   “I think it’s important to learn about Florence Price’s music and share it with the world.”



  • 1887 April 9, Florence Beatrice Smith is born in Little Rock, Arkansas to a singer/pianist mother who also has business interests and the city’s only African American dentist father. The family lives comfortably and is well respected.  Composer William Grant Still, eight years younger, grew up as a neighbour.
  • 1891 Gives her first piano recital.
  • 1898 Publishes her first piece.
  • 1901 Graduates from high school at 14, valedictorian of her class.
New England Conservatory of Music

New England Conservatory of Music


  • 1903 Enrols at New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, majoring in piano and organ, listing her hometown as ‘Pueblo, Mexico,’ to avoid overt racial prejudice.
  • In private lessons, composer and Conservatory director George Whitefield Chadwick encourages her to incorporate African American folk melodies and rhythms into her compositions.




  • 1906 Graduates in three years (not the usual four) with honours, aged 19.
  • 1910 Teaches as Head of the music department at Clark College in Atlanta.
  • 1912 Marries civil rights attorney Thomas J Price in Atlanta, but the couple moves back to Little Rock where Price composes and teaches privately. Refused admission to the all-white Arkansas Music Teachers Association, she also teaches music at segregated black schools.
  • 1927 Racial riots following a high-profile murder and a lynching forces 400 Black people to leave Little Rock. The Price family, now including two daughters, relocates to Chicago.  Price pursues further education at the American Conservatory and the Chicago Musical College.
  • 1928 The G. Schirmer and McKinley music publishers begin to release Price’s songs, piano pieces and instructional keyboard music.
  • 1931 With Thomas Price losing his job in the Great Depression and becoming abusive, Florence files for divorce after nearly 20 years of marriage. Price, now a single parent, moves in with the Bonds family, prominent in the Chicago music community.  Gives Margaret Bonds, a gifted musician, still in her teens, encouragement and lessons in composition.  The two will collaborate throughout the 1930s.
  • 1932 Wins overall prize in the Rodman Wanamaker Music competition with her Symphony No. 1, in E minor and first prize with the Piano Sonata in the same key.


  • 1933 Her symphony is performed at the Chicago World’s Fair by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Frederick Stock, making Price the first Black woman to have her music performed by a major symphony orchestra.“
  • It is a faultless work, a work that speaks its own message with restraint and yet with passion . . . worthy of a place in the regular symphonic repertory,” writes the Chicago Daily News.


  • Price also wins Wanamaker Honorable Mentions for her tone poem Ethiopia’s Shadow in America and, in the piano category, her Fantasie nègre No. 4, in B minor (which Michelle Cann also includes in her MT recital).


  • 1933 Composer John Alden Carpenter sponsors Price for membership in ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors, and Performers).
  • 1934 Her music is regularly performed in churches and community settings of all sizes by many groups including the Chicago Treble Clef Glee Club which she directs, the Florence B. Price A Cappella Chorus, the Chicago Women’s Symphony and the WPA Symphony of Detroit.
  • Price is also an active member of NANM (National Association of Negro Musicians).

National Association of Negro Musicians,. Board members in 1941. Florence B Price (far right) Left to Right:  Blanche K. Thompson, Josephine Inness, Henry L. Grant, Mary Cardwell Daw

  • To support her family, Florence composes popular songs under the name Vee Jay, plays organ in the movie houses, and orchestrates for WGN radio.


Adoration (1951) was originally written and published in 1951 for organ, though I wonder whether it had an earlier life as a song perhaps?
Its beautiful, life affirming melody has provided solace for many during the pandemic and carried the name of Florence B. Price around the world (as a quick search on YouTube will reveal).



  • Many of her works are taken up by bands, women’s organizations, and smaller symphony orchestras.



  • 1939 Price’s exuberant arrangement of My Soul’s Been Anchored in de Lord is performed by Marian Anderson on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in front of an integrated audience of 75,000, and on national radio, on Easter Sunday.


  • 1943 Price writes her November 6 letter to Serge Koussevitzky quoted at the top of this post, seeking wider support than that given by Frederick Stock at the Chicago Symphony.
  • 1951 Sir John Barbirolli commissions a Suite for strings, incorporating traditional spirituals, for the Hallé Orchestra in England. Ill health prevents Price attending the première.
  • 1953 Dies June 3, 1953 in Chicago from a stroke.
  • 2009 Dozens of Price’s manuscripts thought lost are found in St. Anne, Illinois in a summer house about to be renovated.  These include her two violin concertos and Fourth Symphony.
  • 2018 Music publisher G. Schirmer acquires rights to Price’s complete catalogue.
  • 2019 Schirmer acquires another cache of previously undiscovered manuscripts, purchased at an auction located close to the 2009 manuscripts, by a private collector
  • 2021 Website https://florenceprice.com/ goes online
  • 2022 Both Oxford and Cambridge University Presses have books on Price in progress:  Master Musicians Series, OUP and The Cambridge Companion to Florence B Price, CUP.  These should throw new light on Florence Price’s substantial output of over 450 works, including 4 symphonies, a piano concerto and Rhapsody, two violin concertos, several tone poems, choral pieces, over 100 songs and arrangements, plus many works for piano, for strings, and for organ.  Much of this music is only now beginning to be published and is constantly being reviewed and seen under a new lens as time and social awareness evolve.  As Alex Ross wrote 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.”

The Pacifica Quartet plays Florence Price’s Quartet in G major, October 13, 2022

Michelle Cann plays Price’s Sonata in E minor and Fantasie nègre No. 1, No. 2, and No. 4, October 25, 2022

Text © copyright 2022 Keith Horner. Comments welcomed: khnotes@sympatico.ca[/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column]

In Search Of . . . Florence Beatrice Price (1887-1953) | 2022 | Piano Series, Strings | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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