Learning about racial equity has required me to do the hard work of investigation and self-reflection. I am embarrassed to say that I never really questioned why there weren’t more black classical composers. Of course, once I started investigating, I found there were many! And yet, why hadn’t I ever heard their names, listened to their music, or even performed their works? And, why aren’t they included in “standard” classical repertoire?
The next two weeks please enjoy learning about Florence Price, the first recognized African American female symphonic composer. The Chicago Symphony performed a world premiere of Price’s first symphony in 1933. Although she won a composer’s award for this symphony, she faced obstacles due to her race and gender. Price’s first and fourth symphonies were recently recorded by the Fort Smith Symphony, the oldest symphony in Arkansas (her home state). Here is an interview with conductor John Jeter regarding these recordings.
Florence Price’s music blends African American and European traditions. Notably, she included the Juba dance (a dance done by slaves on plantations) in both her first and fourth symphonies, throwing out the traditional Austrian-German scherzo movement, making it a truly American symphony. Listen to the symphonic slide whistle and African drums in the third movement of the 1st symphony! She also incorporates the spiritual “Wade in the Water” in her Symphony No. 4. Explore more in this article about Florence Price and her work.
*A few years ago, a couple discovered 30 boxes of about 200 compositions by Florence Price (including her 4th symphony) in their newly purchased home south of Chicago! After the success of her Price’s 1st symphony, why were her subsequent compositions ignored and left to languish in storage?