Women Making History: Florence Price

Florence Price was the first African-American female composer to have a symphonic composition performed by a major American symphony orchestra.

In 2016, when Robinson Center reopened, a new atrium was named in her honor. It is adjacent to the ballroom named after her childhood friend Dr. William Grant Still.  Having a space named after Price at Robinson is especially appropriate since one of the first concerts given there in 1940, by contralto Marian Anderson, featured songs written by Price.

Florence Price was born in Little Rock on April 9, 1887, to James H. Smith and Florence Gulliver Smith. Her father was a dentist in Little Rock, while her mother taught piano and worked as a schoolteacher and a businesswoman.

As a child, Florence received musical instruction from her mother, and she published musical pieces while in high school. She attended Capitol Hill School in Little Rock, graduating as valedictorian in 1903. Florence then studied at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, In 1907, she received degrees as an organist and as a piano teacher.

After graduation, Florence returned to Arkansas to teach music. After stints in Cotton Plant, North Little Rock and Atlanta, GA, Smith returned to Little Rock in 1912 to marry attorney Thomas Jewell Price on September 25, 1912. Her husband worked with Scipio Jones.

While in Little Rock, Price established a music studio, taught piano lessons, and wrote short pieces for piano. Despite her credentials, she was denied membership into the Arkansas State Music Teachers Association because of her race.

The Prices moved to Chicago, Illinois, in 1927. There, Price seemed to have more professional opportunity for growth despite the breakdown and eventual dissolution of her marriage. She pursued further musical studies at the American Conservatory of Music and Chicago Musical College and established herself in the Chicago area as a teacher, pianist, and organist. In 1928, G. Schirmer, a major publishing firm, accepted for publication Price’s “At the Cotton Gin.” In 1932, Price won multiple awards in competitions sponsored by the Rodman Wanamaker Foundation for her Piano Sonata in E Minor, a large-scale work in four movements, and her more important work, Symphony in E Minor.

The latter work premiered with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on June 15, 1933, and the orchestras of Detroit, Michigan; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Brooklyn, New York, performed subsequent symphonic works by Price. This was the first time a black woman had presented her work on such a stage. In this regard,

Price’s art songs and spiritual arrangements were frequently performed by well-known artists of the day. For example, contralto Marian Anderson featured Price’s spiritual arrangement “My Soul’s Been Anchored in the Lord” in her famous performance on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC on Easter Sunday, April 9, 1939. European orchestras later played Price’s works.

This national and international recognition made her more popular back home, and in 1935, the Alumni Association of Philander Smith College in Little Rock sponsored Price’s return to Arkansas, billing her as “noted musician of Chicago” and presenting her in a concert of her own compositions at Dunbar High School.

In her lifetime, Price composed more than 300 works, ranging from small teaching pieces for piano to large-scale compositions such as symphonies and concertos, as well as instrumental chamber music, vocal compositions, and music for radio. Price died in Chicago on June 3, 1953, while planning a trip to Europe.

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The 2019-2020 Arkansas Symphony Orchestra MasterWorks season is announced

The Arkansas Symphony Orchestra (ASO) announced its 2019-2020 Masterworks which includes guest conductors and a concert conducted by Geoffrey Robson, ASO’s Associate Conductor who has been named Interim Artistic Director.

The Stella Boyle Smith Masterworks Series opens Sep. 28-29, 2019, with a concert presented in partnership with ACANSA Arts Festival of the South. Luminary conductor JoAnn Falletta is the first featured guest conductor, and American trio Time for Three is featured in work written for them by former ASO Conductor in Residence Jennifer Higdon. The program also features Ravel’s La Valse and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade.

ASO’s casual concert and street party, Beethoven and Blue Jeans, returns Nov. 9-10 and features works by two Arkansas composers: William Grant Still’s Festive Overture and Florence Price’s Piano Concerto in One Movement. Karen Walwyn, a specialist in the piano works of Price, is the featured soloist, and Andrew Grams will conduct the concert.

The Masterworks series ends May 2-3, 2020, featuring music from Fanny Mendelssohn and Schubert along with the return of prestigious cellist, Zuill Bailey, performing Dvorak’s Cello Concerto.

The 2019-2020 season coincides with the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing and protecting women’s constitutional right to vote. ASO is celebrating by featuring two outstanding women conductors, JoAnn Falletta and Carolyn Kuan, two women soloists, pianist Karen Walwyn and violinist Simone Porter, and by performing works from four women composers: Pulitzer Prize-winner and former ASO Composer in Residence, Jennifer Higdon, an active and popular composer today, Little Rock’s own Florence Price, Lili Boulanger, and Fanny Mendelssohn.

The full Masterworks series includes:

  • JoAnn Falletta and Time for Three, Sep. 28 & 29, 219, with music from Higdon, Ravel, and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade.
  • Beethoven & Blue Jeans, Nov. 9 & 10, 2019, ASO’s annual casual concert, featuring works from Arkansas composers Florence Price and William Grant Still and guest conductor Andrew Grams.
  • Copland’s Rodeo, Jan. 25-26, 2020, with guest conductor Carolyn Kuan, and music from Ginastera and Bartok;
  • Sibelius & Debussy, Feb. 29 – Mar. 1, 2020, conducted by Geoffrey Robson, and featuring a multimedia work: In Seven Days: A Concerto for Piano and Moving Image, with pianist Andrius Zlabys.
  • Symphonie Fantastique, Apr. 18-19, 2020, with guest conductor Eric Jacobsen, and violinist Simone Porter performing the Saint-Saens Violin Concerto No. 3 in addition to the titular orchestral showpiece by Berlioz.
  • Zuill Bailey Plays Dvorak, May 2 & 3, 2020, with guest conductor Vladimir Kulenovic.

The concerts will be at Robinson Center Performance Hall.

LR Women Making History – Florence Price

Florence-PriceFlorence Price was the first African-American female composer to have a symphonic composition performed by a major American symphony orchestra.  In 2016, when Robinson Center reopened, a new atrium was named in her honor. It is adjacent to the ballroom named after her childhood friend Dr. William Grant Still.  Having a space named after Price at Robinson is especially appropriate since one of the first concerts given there in 1940, by contralto Marian Anderson, featured songs written by Price.

Florence Price was born in Little Rock on April 9, 1887, to James H. Smith and Florence Gulliver Smith. Her father was a dentist in Little Rock, while her mother taught piano and worked as a schoolteacher and a businesswoman.

As a child, Florence received musical instruction from her mother, and she published musical pieces while in high school. She attended Capitol Hill School in Little Rock, graduating as valedictorian in 1903. Florence then studied at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, In 1907, she received degrees as an organist and as a piano teacher.

After graduation, Florence returned to Arkansas to teach music. After stints in Cotton Plant, North Little Rock and Atlanta, GA, Smith returned to Little Rock in 1912 to marry attorney Thomas Jewell Price on September 25, 1912. Her husband worked with Scipio Jones.

While in Little Rock, Price established a music studio, taught piano lessons, and wrote short pieces for piano. Despite her credentials, she was denied membership into the Arkansas State Music Teachers Association because of her race.

The Prices moved to Chicago, Illinois, in 1927. There, Price seemed to have more professional opportunity for growth despite the breakdown and eventual dissolution of her marriage. She pursued further musical studies at the American Conservatory of Music and Chicago Musical College and established herself in the Chicago area as a teacher, pianist, and organist. In 1928, G. Schirmer, a major publishing firm, accepted for publication Price’s “At the Cotton Gin.” In 1932, Price won multiple awards in competitions sponsored by the Rodman Wanamaker Foundation for her Piano Sonata in E Minor, a large-scale work in four movements, and her more important work, Symphony in E Minor.

The latter work premiered with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on June 15, 1933, and the orchestras of Detroit, Michigan; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Brooklyn, New York, performed subsequent symphonic works by Price. This was the first time a black woman had presented her work on such a stage. In this regard,

Price’s art songs and spiritual arrangements were frequently performed by well-known artists of the day. For example, contralto Marian Anderson featured Price’s spiritual arrangement “My Soul’s Been Anchored in the Lord” in her famous performance on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC on Easter Sunday, April 9, 1939. European orchestras later played Price’s works.

This national and international recognition made her more popular back home, and in 1935, the Alumni Association of Philander Smith College in Little Rock sponsored Price’s return to Arkansas, billing her as “noted musician of Chicago” and presenting her in a concert of her own compositions at Dunbar High School.

In her lifetime, Price composed more than 300 works, ranging from small teaching pieces for piano to large-scale compositions such as symphonies and concertos, as well as instrumental chamber music, vocal compositions, and music for radio. Price died in Chicago on June 3, 1953, while planning a trip to Europe.

Black History Month – Marian Anderson and Robinson Center

marian-anderson-9184422-1-402Marian Anderson was likely the first African American to perform on the stage of Robinson Auditorium shortly after it opened in 1940.

Born on February 27, 1897, in Philadelphia, much of her singing career was spent performing in concert and recital in major music venues and with famous orchestras throughout the United States and Europe between 1925 and 1965.

In 1939, the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) refused permission for Anderson to sing to an integrated audience in Constitution Hall. The incident placed Anderson into the spotlight of the international community on a level unusual for a classical musician.  First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt resigned her membership in the DAR in protest and arranged for Anderson to perform an open-air concert on Easter Sunday in 1939.   She sang before a crowd of more than 75,000 people and a radio audience in the millions. Two of the pieces she sang in that recital were by Little Rock native Florence Price.

When Anderson performed at Robinson Auditorium in 1940, two pieces by Price were part of that concert as well.

She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963, the Kennedy Center Honors in 1978, and the National Medal of Arts in 1986.  Two years before her 1993 death, she received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

Black History Month – Florence Price and Robinson Center

Florence-PriceOutside the William Grant Still Ballroom at Robinson Center is an atrium named for Florence Price.  It is fitting that these two childhood friends should be memorialized in adjoining spaces.

Florence Price was the first African-American female composer to have a symphonic composition performed by a major American symphony orchestra. She was born in Little Rock on April 9, 1887, to James H. Smith and Florence Gulliver Smith. Her father was a dentist in Little Rock, while her mother taught piano and worked as a schoolteacher and a businesswoman.

As a child, Smith received musical instruction from her mother, and she published musical pieces while in high school. She attended Capitol Hill School in Little Rock, graduating as valedictorian in 1903. Smith then studied at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, In 1907, she received degrees as an organist and as a piano teacher.

After graduation, Smith returned to Arkansas to teach music. After stints in Cotton Plant, North Little Rock and Atlanta, GA, Smith returned to Little Rock in 1912 to marry attorney Thomas Jewell Price on September 25, 1912. Her husband worked with Scipio Jones.

While in Little Rock, Price established a music studio, taught piano lessons, and wrote short pieces for piano. Despite her credentials, she was denied membership into the Arkansas State Music Teachers Association because of her race.

The Prices moved to Chicago, Illinois, in 1927. There, Price seemed to have more professional opportunity for growth despite the breakdown and eventual dissolution of her marriage. She pursued further musical studies at the American Conservatory of Music and Chicago Musical College and established herself in the Chicago area as a teacher, pianist, and organist. In 1928, G. Schirmer, a major publishing firm, accepted for publication Price’s “At the Cotton Gin.” In 1932, Price won multiple awards in competitions sponsored by the Rodman Wanamaker Foundation for her Piano Sonata in E Minor, a large-scale work in four movements, and her more important work, Symphony in E Minor.

The latter work premiered with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on June 15, 1933, and the orchestras of Detroit, Michigan; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Brooklyn, New York, performed subsequent symphonic works by Price. This was the first time a black woman had presented her work on such a stage. In this regard,

Price’s art songs and spiritual arrangements were frequently performed by well-known artists of the day. For example, contralto Marian Anderson featured Price’s spiritual arrangement “My Soul’s Been Anchored in the Lord” in her famous performance on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC on Easter Sunday, April 9, 1939. European orchestras later played Price’s works.

This national and international recognition made her more popular back home, and in 1935, the Alumni Association of Philander Smith College in Little Rock sponsored Price’s return to Arkansas, billing her as “noted musician of Chicago” and presenting her in a concert of her own compositions at Dunbar High School.

In her lifetime, Price composed more than 300 works, ranging from small teaching pieces for piano to large-scale compositions such as symphonies and concertos, as well as instrumental chamber music, vocal compositions, and music for radio. Price died in Chicago on June 3, 1953, while planning a trip to Europe.

RobinsoNovember: Florence Price

Florence-PriceOutside the William Grant Still Ballroom at Robinson Center is an atrium named for Florence Price.  It is fitting that these two childhood friends should be memorialized in adjoining spaces.

Florence Price was the first African-American female composer to have a symphonic composition performed by a major American symphony orchestra. She was born in Little Rock on April 9, 1887, to James H. Smith and Florence Gulliver Smith. Her father was a dentist in Little Rock, while her mother taught piano and worked as a schoolteacher and a businesswoman.

As a child, Smith received musical instruction from her mother, and she published musical pieces while in high school. She attended Capitol Hill School in Little Rock, graduating as valedictorian in 1903. Smith then studied at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, In 1907, she received degrees as an organist and as a piano teacher.

After graduation, Smith returned to Arkansas to teach music. After stints in Cotton Plant, North Little Rock and Atlanta, GA, Smith returned to Little Rock in 1912 to marry attorney Thomas Jewell Price on September 25, 1912. Her husband worked with Scipio Jones.

While in Little Rock, Price established a music studio, taught piano lessons, and wrote short pieces for piano. Despite her credentials, she was denied membership into the Arkansas State Music Teachers Association because of her race.

The Prices moved to Chicago, Illinois, in 1927. There, Price seemed to have more professional opportunity for growth despite the breakdown and eventual dissolution of her marriage. She pursued further musical studies at the American Conservatory of Music and Chicago Musical College and established herself in the Chicago area as a teacher, pianist, and organist. In 1928, G. Schirmer, a major publishing firm, accepted for publication Price’s “At the Cotton Gin.” In 1932, Price won multiple awards in competitions sponsored by the Rodman Wanamaker Foundation for her Piano Sonata in E Minor, a large-scale work in four movements, and her more important work, Symphony in E Minor.

The latter work premiered with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on June 15, 1933, and the orchestras of Detroit, Michigan; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Brooklyn, New York, performed subsequent symphonic works by Price. This was the first time a black woman had presented her work on such a stage. In this regard,

Price’s art songs and spiritual arrangements were frequently performed by well-known artists of the day. For example, contralto Marian Anderson featured Price’s spiritual arrangement “My Soul’s Been Anchored in the Lord” in her famous performance on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC on Easter Sunday, April 9, 1939. European orchestras later played Price’s works.

This national and international recognition made her more popular back home, and in 1935, the Alumni Association of Philander Smith College in Little Rock sponsored Price’s return to Arkansas, billing her as “noted musician of Chicago” and presenting her in a concert of her own compositions at Dunbar High School.

In her lifetime, Price composed more than 300 works, ranging from small teaching pieces for piano to large-scale compositions such as symphonies and concertos, as well as instrumental chamber music, vocal compositions, and music for radio. Price died in Chicago on June 3, 1953, while planning a trip to Europe.

Tonight at 7, Arkansas Sounds salutes composers Florence Price and William Grant Still at Ron Robinson Theater

AR Sounds price_stillTwo of the leading American classical music composers in the first half of the 20th Century were from Arkansas and were African American.  Tonight (February 26) Arkansas Sounds pays tribute to Florence B. Price and William Grant Still in a program at 7pm at the Ron Robinson Theater.

Arkansas Sounds pays tribute to two of Arkansas’s most highly acclaimed African American classical composers with a screening of The Caged Bird: The Life and Music of Florence B. Price followed by performances of Price’s and Still’s compositions by members of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra (ASO) and the ASO Youth Orchestra. The film’s length is approximately 1 hour.

Little Rock native Florence Price (1887-1953) was the first African American female classical composer to have her composition played by a major American symphony orchestra. The Caged Bird: The Life and Music of Florence B. Price traces Price’s life, detailing her cultured childhood in an extraordinarily gifted family, her struggles and eventual departure from the South due to racial tension, and her great artistic impact and success. Her compositions were favored by famed soprano Marian Anderson, and in 1933, her “Symphony in E Minor” was performed at the Chicago World’s Fair by the Chicago Symphony.

Born in Woodville, Mississippi, and raised in Little Rock, William Grant Still (1895-1978) achieved national and international acclaim as a composer of symphonic and popular music and, as an African American, was hailed for breaking race barriers of his time. His Afro-American Symphony was the first symphony composed by an African American to be played by a major symphony orchestra and is still performed today. Still was a prolific composer whose work includes symphonies, ballets, operas, chamber music, and works for solo instruments, totaling nearly 200. He also received numerous honors and achievements such as the Guggenheim Fellowship in 1934, 1935, and 1938. He also received eight honorary degrees from institutions such as Oberlin College, the University of Arkansas, Pepperdine University, and the Peabody Conservatory of Music.

The Arkansas Symphony Orchestra (ASO) comprises the state’s most sought-after professional musicians and is celebrating its 50th season. The ASO Youth Orchestra comprises over 200 student musicians, ages 9-18, who travel from over thirty-seven communities throughout Arkansas.