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On this date, in 1877, Florence Smith Price was born. She was a Black composer, concert pianist, and organist.
From Little Rock, AR., Florence Beatrice Smith was the third child of Dr. James H. Smith, the first Black dentist in that city who was also a published author, inventor, and American Civil Rights advocate. Her mother, Florence Gulliver, was a schoolteacher and businesswoman. Smith attended the New England Conservatory of Music from 1903 to 1906, graduating with an arts degree in organ music and a teacher’s diploma in piano.
She taught at the Cotton-Plant Arkadelphia Academy until 1907 and Shorter College in Little Rock until 1910, later heading the music department at Clark University (1910-1912). After marrying Thomas Price, an attorney, she let go of teaching and set up a private studio in her home. The intolerable racial climate of Little Rock caused them to move to Chicago in 1927, where Price established herself as a concert pianist and composer of national merit. Major publishers began contracting her works-Theodore Presser, G. Schirmer, Gamble, and Carl Fischer, to name a few. In 1932, Price won the Wanamaker Music Composition Contest for her Symphony in E.
The premiere of this piece by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in June 1933 signaled Price as the first African American woman to have an orchestral work done by a major American orchestra. During her career, Price wrote over three hundred compositions, including symphonies, concertos, chamber works, art songs, and settings of spirituals for voice and piano. Her best-known spiritual, My Soul’s Been Anchored in De Lord, has been performed by Ellabelle Davis, Marian Anderson, and Leontyne Price. WGN’s radio symphony orchestra recorded many of her songs in the 1930s.
Her instrumental music reflected the influence of her cultural themes, such as dance music with the Juba expression in a classical form. She was one of the few who characterize the high point of the new Negro movement in the arts along with William Levi Dawson and William Grant Still. Smith was the first Black woman composer to reach national recognition. Florence Price died in Chicago in 1953.
Black Women in America An Historical Encyclopedia
Volumes 1 and 2, edited by Darlene Clark Hine
Copyright 1993, Carlson Publishing Inc., Brooklyn, New York