Show Summary Details

Page of
PRINTED FROM Oxford Music Online. © Oxford University Press, 2018. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single article in Oxford Music Online for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy).

Price [Smith], Florence Bea(trice)free

  • Rae Linda Brown

(b Little Rock, AR, April 9, 1887; d Chicago, June 3, 1953). American composer. She was the first black American woman to win widespread recognition as a symphonic composer, rising to prominence (with William Grant Still and William Dawson) in the 1930s. After early training with her mother she studied composition at the New England Conservatory in Boston with Wallace Goodrich and Frederick Converse (1903–6) and privately with George Whitefield Chadwick. She gained an Artist's Diploma (organ) and a piano teacher's diploma. She returned to the South to teach at the Cotton Plant-Arkadelphia Academy (1906–7) and Shorter College (1907–10) in Little Rock, then headed the music department of Clark College in Atlanta until 1912, when she returned to Little Rock to marry. In 1927, presumably to escape the increasing racial oppression in the South, the Price family moved to Chicago. There she began a period of compositional creativity and study at the American Conservatory and with Carl Busch, Wesley LaViolette and Arthur Olaf Anderson at the Chicago Musical College. In the 1920s she began to win awards for her compositions, and in 1932 she achieved national recognition when she won first prize in the Wanamaker competition for her Symphony in E minor. With the symphony's première in 1933 by the Chicago SO under Stock, Price became the first black American woman to have an orchestral work performed by a major American orchestra. Her music was taken up by other orchestras, and she won further recognition after Marian Anderson's performance of her arrangement of the spiritual My soul's been anchored in de Lord and Songs to the Dark Virgin. The latter, a setting of a text by Langston Hughes, is one of her most powerful art songs and was hailed by the Chicago Daily News as ‘one of the greatest immediate successes ever won by an American song’. She remained active as a composer and teacher until her death.

Price played the theatre organ for silent films, wrote popular music for commercial purposes and orchestrated arrangements for soloists and choirs who performed with the WGN Radio orchestra in Chicago. She is best known for her songs: her art songs and arrangements of spirituals were sung by many of the most renowned singers of the day including, besides Marian Anderson, Blanche Thebom, Etta Moten and Leontyne Price. Although her music was widely performed, her output, comprising over 300 compositions, remains unpublished, apart from a handful of songs and piano pieces. In her large-scale works Price's musical language is often conservative, in keeping with the Romantic nationalist style of the 1920s–40s, but it also reflects the influence of her cultural heritage and the ideals of the ‘Harlem renaissance’ of the 1920s–30s. She incorporated spirituals and characteristic dance music within classical forms, and at times deviated from traditional structures in deference to influences which are implicitly African-American, for example call-and-response techniques and Juba dance rhythms. To her art songs and piano music she brought a thorough knowledge of instrumental and vocal writing, colourful harmonies and exotic modulations.


(selective list)


Sym. no.1, e, 1931–2

Ethiopia's Shadow in America, 1932

Mississippi River, sym., 1934

Pf Conc., d, perf. 1934

Sym. no.2, g; Sym. no.3, c, 1940, US-NH; Sym. no.4, d; Vn Conc. no.2, D, 1952

Chicago Suite; Colonial Dance, sym.; Dances in the Canebrakes [arr. of pf piece]; 2 concert ovs. [based on spirituals]; Ov. ‘Sinner please don't let this harvest pass’; Rhapsody, pf, orch; Songs of the Oak, tone poem; Suite of Negro Dances


The Moon Bridge (M.R. Gamble), SSA, 1930

The New Moon, SSAA, 2 pf, 1930

The Wind and the Sea (P.L. Dunbar), SSAATTBB, pf, str qt, 1934

Witch of the Meadow (Gamble), SSA (1947)

Sea Gulls, female chorus, fl, cl, vn, va, vc, pf, by 1951

Nature's Magic (Gamble), SSA (1953)

Song for Snow (E. Coatsworth), SATB (1957)

Abraham Lincoln walks at midnight (V. Lindsay), mixed vv, orch, org; After the 1st and 6th Commandments, SATB; Communion Service, F, SATB, org; Nod (W. de la Mare), TTBB; Resignation (Price), SATB; Song of Hope (Price); Spring Journey, SSA, str qt

Solo vocal (all with pf)

Dreamin' Town (Dunbar), 1934

4 Songs, B-Bar, 1935

My Dream (Hughes), 1935

Dawn's Awakening (J.J. Burke), 1936

Songs to the Dark Virgin (L. Hughes), (1941)

Hold Fast to Dreams (Hughes), 1945

Night (L.C. Wallace), (1946)

Out of the South blew a Wind (F.C. Woods), (1946)

An April Day (J.F. Cotter), (1949)

The Envious Wren (A. and P. Carey); Fantasy in Purple (Hughes); Feet o’ Jesus (Hughes); Forever (Dunbar); The Glory of the Day was in her Face (J.W. Johnson); The Heart of a Woman (G.D. Johnson); Love-in-a-Mist (Gamble); Nightfall (Dunbar); Resignation (Price), also arr. chorus; Song of the Open Road; Sympathy (Dunbar); To my Little Son (J.J. Davis); Travel's End (M.F. Hoisington); c90 other works


Suite for Brasses, c1949

Moods, fl, cl, pf, 1953

Negro Folksongs in Counterpoint, str qt; Spring Journey, 2 vn, 2 va, 2 vc, db, pf; pieces for vn, pf; 2 pf qnts; other works for str qt

Piano solo

At the Cotton Gin (1928)

Sonata, e (1932)

3 Little Negro Dances, 1933, arr. sym. band, 1939, arr. 2 pf (1949)

Bayou Dance, 1938

Dance of the Cotton Blossoms, 1938

Dances in the Canebrakes (1953)

c10 other works, c70 teaching pieces

Organ solo

Impromptu, 1941

Adoration (1951)

Evening Song, 1951

In Quiet Mood, 1951

Passacaglia and Fugue; Retrospection (An Elf on a Moonbeam); Retrospection (1995)

Sonata no.1, 1927

Suite no.1 (1993)

Festal March (1995)

Offertory (1995)

other works

Arrs. of spirituals

Fantasie negre, e, 1929 (Sinner, please don't let this harvest pass)

My soul's been anchored in de Lord, 1v, pf (1937), arr. 1v, orch, arr. chorus, pf; Nobody knows the trouble I see, pf (1938)

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?, pf (1942)

I am bound for the kingdom, 1v, pf (1948)

I'm workin' on my building, 1v, pf (1948)

Heav'n bound soldier, male chorus, 1949 [2 arrs.]

Variations on a Folksong (Peter, go ring dem bells), org (1996)

I couldn't hear nobody pray, SSAATTBB; Save me, Lord, save me, 1v, pf; Trouble done come my way, 1v, pf; 12 other works, 1v, pf

MSS of 40 songs in US-PHu; other MSS in private collections; papers and duplicate MSS in U. of Arkansas, Fayetteville

Principal publishers

Fischer, Gamble-Hinged, Handy, McKinley, Presser


Black Perspective in Music
E. Southern: Biographical Dictionary of Afro-American and African Musicians
The New Grove Dictionary of Women Composers
New Haven (CT), Yale University, Irving S. Gilmore Music Library