Florence Price

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Florence Beatrice Price (April 9, 1887, Little Rock, Arkansas – June 3, 1953, Chicago, Illinois) was an American composer.


Florence Price (née Smith) is considered the first black woman in the United States to be recognized as a symphonic composer. Even though her training was steeped in European tradition, Price’s music consists of mostly the American idiom and reveals her Southern roots. Her mother, a soprano and pianist, carefully guided her early musical training, and at age fourteen, she enrolled in the New England Conservatory of Music with a major in piano and organ. She studied composition and counterpoint with George Chadwick and Frederick Converse, writing her first string trio and symphony in college, and graduating in 1907 with honors and both an artist diploma in organ and a teaching certificate.

She taught in Arkansas from 1907–1927 and married Thomas J. Price, an attorney, in 1912. After a series of racial incidents in Little Rock, particularly a lynching that took place in 1927, the family moved to Chicago where Price began a new and fulfilling period in her compositional career. She studied composition, orchestration, and organ with the leading teachers in the city including Arthur Olaf Anderson, Carl Busch, Wesley La Violette, and Leo Sowerby and 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, Chicago University, and American Conservatory of Music, studying languages and liberal arts subjects as well as music.

Her friendship with the young composer, Margaret Bonds, resulted in a teacher-student relationship and the two women 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 and second place with her Symphony in E minor, and for her Piano Sonata. 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 winning composition, Symphony In E Minor on June 15, 1933. A number of Price’s other orchestral works were also played by the WPA Symphony Orchestra of Detroit and the Chicago Women’s Symphony. 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 de Lord for piano or orchestra and voice, and Moon Bridge. Price made considerable use of characteristic black 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.

Deeply religious, Price frequently used the music of the black church as material for her arrangements. 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 the black contralto Marian Anderson, who performed them on a regular basis. Price died in Chicago on June 3, 1953.



  • Symphony no.1 in e minor, 1931–2;
  • Ethiopia's Shadow in America, 1932;
  • Mississippi River, sym., 1934;
  • Pianoforte Concerto in d minor, perf. 1934;
  • Symphony no.2 in g minor;
  • Symphony no.3 in c minor, 1940, US-NH;
  • Symphony no.4 in d minor;
  • Violin Concerto no.2 in D major, 1952;
  • Chicago Suite;
  • Colonial Dance, sym.;
  • Dances in the Canebrakes [arr. of pf piece];
  • 2 concert ovs. [based on spirituals];
  • Ov. ‘Sinner please don't let this harvest pass’;
  • Rhapsody, pf, orch;
  • Songs of the Oak, tone poem;
  • Suite of Negro Dances


  • 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 pf)[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); c90 other works

Chamber music / Works for brass band[edit]

  • Suite for Brasses, 1730
  • Moods, fl, cl, pf, 1953;
  • Negro Folksongs in Counterpoint, str qt;
  • Spring Journey, 2 vn, 2 va, 2 vc, db, pf;
  • pieces for vn, pf; 2 pf qnts;
  • other works for str qt

Works for Pianoforte[edit]

  • At the Cotton Gin (1928);
  • Sonata, e (1932);
  • 3 Little Negro Dances, 1933, arr. sym. band, 1939, arr. 2 pf (1949);
  • Bayou Dance, 1938;
  • Dance of the Cotton Blossoms, 1938;
  • Dances in the Canebrakes (1953);
  • c10 other works,
  • c70 teaching pieces


  • Impromptu, 1941;
  • Adoration (1951);
  • Evening Song, 1951;
  • In Quiet Mood, 1951;
  • Passacaglia and Fugue;
  • Retrospection (An Elf on a Moonbeam);
  • Retrospection (1995);
  • Sonata no.1, 1927;
  • Suite no.1 (1993); Festal March (1995);
  • Offertory (1995);
  • other works

Arrangements of spirituals[edit]

  • Fantasie negre, e, 1929 (Sinner, please don't let this harvest pass);
  • 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.


  • Ammer, Christine. Unsung: A History of Women in American Music. Portland Oregon, Amadeus Press, 2001
  • Brown, Rae Linda. “Price, Florence Smith” (Accessed 3/15/07.) <http://www.grovemusic.com>
  • Brown, Rae Linda, and Wayne Shirley, eds. (2008). Florence Price: Symphonies Nos. 1 and 3. Music of the United States of America (MUSA) vol. 19. Madison, Wisconsin: A-R Editions.
  • Perkins, Holly Ellistine. Biographies of Black Composers and Songwriters; A Supplementary Textbook. Iowa:Wm. C. Brown Publishers, 1990.

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