Florence Beatrice Price was a pianist and classical composer who owned the distinction of being the first Black woman to have her works played by a major orchestra.
Florence Beatrice Smith was born April 9, 1887 in Little Rock, Ark. Raised in a mixed-family household by a dentist father and music teacher mother, Price was exposed to music at a young age and was trained on the piano, publishing her first composition at 11 years old. She graduated from high school at 14 and entered the New England Conservatory of Music. Her mother, fearing racial tensions of the time, urged her daughter to pass for Mexican.
Upon graduating from the conservatory, Price taught briefly and became the head of the music department at Clark University in Atlanta. She met her husband, Thomas Price and had two daughters after returning to Little Rock. The racism and bigotry in the Deep South led to the family uprooting to Chicago, but her marriage ended due to several hardships. This prompted Price to focus primarily on composing and working odd music jobs.
The hard work began to pay off in the ‘30s. In 1932, Price’s “Symphony in E Minor” won the Rodman Wanamaker Competition top prize of $500 and put her on the map. The win caught the attention of Frederick Stock, the conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. In 1933, the orchestra played Price’s signature piece, opening a floodgate of opportunities for her compositions and piano performances over the next two decades. She would go on to create 300 pieces by the end of her life.
Price passed in 1953 from a stroke and much of her work was initially lost but a revival of sorts took place at the turn of the 21st Century with researchers recognizing her as a true musical trailblazer.