It’s Women’s History Month, again! Time to sing the praises of those unsung–or less-than-fully-sung–female composers from previous generations. As you know, my doctoral and post-doctoral research focused on female opera composers from the 17th to early 20th centuries. However, my shout out this time is to Florence Price (1887–1953). Terrance McKnight, of New York City’s classical music radio station WQXR, created an excellent and evocative biography of her that can be accessed via their site. Give it a listen, you’ll be glad you did.
Price, an organist and graduate of New England Conservatory, was the first black woman to have a symphony premiered by a major American orchestra. Her songs were performed by Marian Anderson among others, and her work deserves to be much better known. I consistently sang songs by Price in my own concerts and auditions when I was actively pursuing a classical vocal career. I only wish that Price had had the opportunity to write an opera or two, so that I could have included some of her works in my exhibit on operas composed by women.
McKnight’s bio draws largely from the research done by Rae Linda Brown, Price’s main biographer and present-day champion. Back when I was in graduate school, I had the pleasure of inviting Brown to present for the Harvard Music Department’s Graduate Student Colloquium. In my work on Maria Antonia, Electress of Saxony (1724–1780), I was inspired by Brown’s efforts to get more ensembles to perform and record Price’s works. Brown is now Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education at Loyola Marymount University. You can read a summary about her, and her work on Florence Price here. Due to Brown’s work and the work of other researchers and musicians, works by our musical foremothers are slowly receiving the recognition they deserve.