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Discovering Florence Price

Florence Price

Florence Price

Tune in Wednesday, May 1 at 9:00 PM.

In the 1930s, there weren’t an awful lot of American composers who enjoyed the same level of recognition as their European counterparts. There was much less regard for American women composers, and even less for African-American women composers. Even today, of the thousands of recordings produced by the prestigious Vienna Philharmonic, there are only around ten instances of that orchestra recording American music; they’ve never recorded women composers.

In such a closed environment, it is a happy footnote that the Chicago Symphony Orchestra premiered a symphony by an African-American woman in 1933. This composer, Florence Price, had moved to Chicago in 1927 after racial tensions in her native Arkansas had become intolerable. She wrote some 300 compositions, ranging from music for young musicians to full-fledged concertos and symphonies. She died in Chicago in 1953.

There is good reason to resurrect Florence Price. She has a unique voice in classical music; hers speaks of a world in which grandparents had been slaves, and the American south was struggling to forge a new, post-slavery identity.

In May, Chicagoans will have the opportunity to hear one of her works live, a tone poem called Mississippi River, played by the Chicago Symphony in honor of its Rivers Festival.

On Wednesday, May 1, WFMT presents the documentary The Price of Admission: A Musical Biography of Florence Beatrice Price, a production of WQXR in New York City, hosted by Terrance McKnight.