“Who is Florence Price?” spotlights Black symphony composer

by Erika DuBose
Florence Beatrice Price
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Florence Price, a Black composer who died in 1953, might have gone unnoticed in history if not for a group of music students in New York City. The middle schoolers studied Ms. Price’s work, then wrote and published a book called, “Who is Florence Price?” which is available now.

And who was Ms. Price? She was the first Black woman to create music that was performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1933. Both her Symphony No. 1 and her Piano Concerto in One Movement were later played by the famed national orchestra.

However, due to white supremacy and systemic racism within the classical and symphonic music industry, Ms. Price never gained the accolades she so richly deserved. In a letter to one of her contemporaries, conductor Serge Koussevitzky, she wrote, “I have two handicaps — those of sex and race.”

The students who wrote the book agree with the notion that Ms. Price’s talent and drive were stymied by racism and sexism.

According to Cobie Buckmire, a 13-year-old music student from Brooklyn, “All the other famous composers are white men like Mozart, Beethoven, Bach. I didn’t even know who she was before I started this.”

The middle school students from Special Music School in Manhattan were assigned to study Ms. Price by their English teacher, Shannon Potts. After learning that Ms. Price was often overlooked in music history, they decided to write a book about her life and accomplishments. 

According to Ms. Potts, “We talk about representation in literature all the time. For kids to be able to become authors and activists in a way, to disrupt the story of the way that classical music is being told. They no longer, as a diverse population, become victims of a largely white society.” 

Meanwhile, the book also reflects a renewed national interest in Ms. Price’s work. A recording of her symphonies played by the Philadelphia Orchestra was nominated for a Grammy award, and the Francisco Symphony, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra all have plans to perform her work.

All proceeds from the sales of “Who is Florence Price?” will benefit the Kaufman Music Center, a non-profit organization in New York. 

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