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To Be Rediscovered When You Were Never Forgotten, Part One: Florence Price

Updated: Jan 14

First published on the Harry T. Burleigh Society website, November 29, 2018. Edited for flow, clarity, and accessible links.

On Nov. 15, 2018, The New York Times reported Florence Price’s catalogue had been acquired by G. Schirmer. This news was met with excitement and skepticism: excitement that that Price's unpublished works would be more accessible; skepticism because the article's implication was that Price and her music had been forgotten.

Which misses a lot of historical evidence and cultural memory. Florence Price’s (1887–1953) music was performed, published, and studied during her life and after her death. Her music was not forgotten in Black classical music and regional communities. But she still navigated a publishing industry less than eager to print large-scale works by a Black composer, requiring the support and advocacy of colleagues like Marian Anderson and Harry T. Burleigh, and why many of her instrumental works remained in manuscript form before and after their performance.

“The Island of My Dreams” (1928) - music by Florence Price, words by Grace Linley. Florence Price Papers Addendum, University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. Photo by author.

G. Schirmer published two of Price’s works, one in her lifetime, Songs to the Dark Virgin (1941). Another posthumously, Sonata in E minor (1997), edited by Dr. Rae Linda Brown, joining Drs. Barbara Garvey Jackson and Helen Walker-Hill in the editing, publishing, and recording of Price’s repertoire for voice, organ, piano, and orchestra.

“The Moon Bridge” (1930) - music by Florence Price, words by Mary Rolofson Gamble. Florence Price Addendum, University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. Photo by author.

The “rediscovered” Black composer is a tired trope. It reflects an active process where certain histories and cultural memories are not considered “relevant” to the mainstream until they prove useful. And yet there have been classical musicians who've kept the name of Florence Price on their lips, in their minds, and under their fingers for more than five decades. She was not forgotten.

Dr. Douglas Shadle wrote an urgent 3-part thread that highlights the shortcomings of the NYT piece and how Price’s life requires us to rethink music biography. I strongly encourage you to read it in full and closely follow the work of Karen Walwyn, Er-Gene Kahng, Marquese Carter, and Samantha Ege, performers and scholars of Price’s music.

This is just a sliver of the wonderful activity that continues the work of past performers, scholars, and teachers of Price's music. As Price performance and scholarship continue to grow and flourish, we must ensure that our retellings of her life of Price engage with the people who remembered her, while acknowledging there is still a lot of fun, exciting work to do. Read & Listen Micaela Baranello. “Welcoming a Black Female Composer into the Canon, Finally,” The New York Times, February 9, 2018.

Rae Linda Brown, ed. Sonata in E Minor for Piano (Schirmer’s Library of Musical Classics). New York: G. Schirmer, 1997.

Rae Linda Brown and Wayne Shirley, ed. Florence Price: Symphonies Nos. 1 and 3 (Music of the United States of America, Vol 19). Middleton, WI: A-R Editions, Inc., 2008.

Marquese Carter. The Poet and Her Songs: Analyzing the Art Songs of Florence B. Price. Indiana University, DMA diss., 2018.

Sarah Fritz and A. Kori Hill. "Clara Schumann and Florence Price Get Their Due At Carnegie Hall," The New York Times, October 27, 2022, updated November 9, 2022.

Er-Gene Kahng. Florence Price: Violin Concertos. Albany Records, 2018.

Er-Gene Kahng, ed. String Quartet in G Major (1929). Fayetteville, AR.: ClarNan Editions, 2017.

Music of Florence Beatrice Price. Fayetteville, AR.: ClarNan Editions, 1993. Vol. 1: Suite No. 1 for Organ, Vol. 2: Short Organ Works, Vol. 3: Variations on a Folksong “Peter, Go Ring Dem Bells” for Organ, Vol. 4: First Sonata for Organ.

Florence Price. Song to the Dark Virgin. New York: G. Schirmer, 1941.

Alex Ross. “The Rediscovery of Florence Price: How an African-American Composer’s Works Were Saved from Destruction,” The New Yorker, February 5, 2018.

Helen Walker-Hill. Music by Black Women Composers: A Bibliography of Available Scores. Chicago: Center for Black Music Research, 1995.

Helen Walker-Hill and Gregory Walker. Kaleidoscope: Music by African-American Women. CD. Leonarda LE 339, c. 1995, 2008.

Karen Walwyn. Florence B. Price: Concerto in One Movement, Symphony in E Minor, Albany Records, 2011.

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