florence beatrice smith price

Florence Beatrice (Smith) Price

On March 4 at 7 p.m., the Tehachapi Symphony Orchestra will feature a livestream concert on Facebook featuring the music of Florence Beatrice (Smith) Price.

Price was an American classical composer, pianist, organist, music teacher and the first African-American woman to be recognized as a symphonic composer, and the first to have a composition played by a major American orchestra.

She was born in Little Rock, Ark., on April 9, 1887, the youngest of three. She played her first piano recital at the age of 4 and her first composition was published at the age of 11 under the guidance of her mother. At the age of 14, Florence Price graduated from high school as the valedictorian in 1904 and left Little Rock to attend the New England Conservatory of Music (after presenting herself as being of Mexican descent, her mother’s advice). She earned a bachelor of music degree in 1906 with a double major in organ and piano performance.

After graduation, she taught at the Cotton Plant-Arkadelphia Presbyterian Academy, then Little Rock’s Shorter College, and then became head of the music department at Clark University in Atlanta. She then returned to Little Rock, taught privately, and engaged in composition. She founded the Little Rock Club of Musicians after being denied admission to the all-white Arkansas Music Teachers Association due to segregation of that time. She taught music at the segregated black schools, but after racial problems grew, she moved with her husband and two daughters to Chicago in 1927.

In Chicago, Price joined the R. Nathaniel Dett Club of Music and the Allied Arts and studied at five different universities, graduating in 1934 as a student in composition and orchestration. Around 1928, G. Schirmer and McKinley publishing companies began to distribute her music. Financial struggles led to the Price’s divorce in 1931. Florence gave lessons from home and composed more than three hundred works. These included chamber works, art songs, arrangements of spirituals, works for violin, organ works, piano concertos, and symphonies.

Price submitted compositions for the 1932 Wanamaker competition, winning first prize for her Symphony in E minor and second prize for her Piano Sonata. Price’s works were performed in churches, cultural clubs, the Chicago Women’s Symphony and the WPA Symphony of Detroit. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra performed the world premiere of her Symphony No. 1 in E minor on June 15, 1933 during Chicago’s Century of Progress Exposition bringing instant recognition and fame, but due to segregation, racism, sexism, and Jim Crow laws, succeeding as a composer would be a struggle.

Price continued to compose throughout the '40s and early '50s and gained recognition from as far away as England. Conductor Sir John Barbirolli commissioned her to compose a suite for string instruments. Price continued to write art songs, music for choruses, arrange spirituals for solo voice and composed pieces for organ until her death in 1953. Most of Florence Price’s works were lost for many years, but many manuscripts were recently rediscovered and are currently in the process of being published.

Steps to find the Livestream:

If you have Facebook, once there, search for Tehachapi Symphony Orchestra.

If you do not have a Facebook account, log on to your computer and search the internet for the Tehachapi Symphony. You will find Tehachapi Symphony Orchestra - Home with a facebook.com address. Choose this and if you do not want to create an account, click Not Now. Click on Livestream Video.

Karen Budai is the director of publicity for the Tehachapi Symphony Orchestra.