Florence Price (1887-1953) – Little Rock-born composer, educator, pianist and subject of the film “The Caged Bird” – was denied membership in the Arkansas State Music Teachers Association sometime between 1917 and 1927, and because she was African American. A hundred years later, the national branch of that same organization is naming Price as a Foundation Fellow, as Angelita Faller’s release from UA Little Rock yesterday details.
“An excerpt from Price’s biography in the Encyclopedia of Arkansas contextualizes the denial within Price’s life and her subsequent departure from Arkansas.
While in Little Rock, Price established a music studio, taught piano lessons, and wrote short pieces for piano. Despite her credentials, she was denied membership into the Arkansas State Music Teachers Association because of her race. Worsening racial tensions in Arkansas in the 1920s convinced the Prices to move to Chicago, Illinois, in 1927. There, Price seemed to have more professional opportunity for growth despite the breakdown and eventual dissolution of her marriage. She pursued further musical studies at the American Conservatory of Music and Chicago Musical College and established herself in the Chicago area as a teacher, pianist, and organist. In 1928, G. Schirmer, a major publishing firm, accepted for publication Price’s At the Cotton Gin. In 1932, Price won multiple awards in competitions sponsored by the Rodman Wanamaker Foundation for her Piano Sonata in E Minor, a large-scale work in four movements, and her more important work, Symphony in E Minor.
UA Little Rock Professor of Music Linda Holzer, a pianist who’s advocated for Price’s legacy in Arkansas, accepted the award on behalf of Price at a ceremony in Orlando, Florida in March. “Most of the current members of ASMTA were unaware of the history,” Holzer said. “Board members were supportive of the idea and were understandably dismayed to learn how Price had been treated in the early 20th century. So 2017 was the year to put the proposal forward formally, and the board voted in June 2017 in favor of my nomination of Florence Price for an MTNA Foundation Fellow.”
“Florence Price was a determined, tremendously talented musician,” Holzer said. “She did not let the discrimination slow her down. She went on to achieve so much as a composer and pianist and organist and teacher. I think about the movie ‘Hidden Figures’ that came out last year about accomplished but hidden women in math and science working behind the scenes at NASA. Similarly, I feel like Florence Price’s contributions were minimized during her lifetime.”
“I am thrilled that the ASMTA wants to redress the injustice committed during a different time in our nation’s and ASMTA’s history,” said Gary Ingle, CEO of the Music Teachers National Association.
The MTNA honored Price with a certificate and pin, which Holzer has donated – along with the conference program – to the University’s Center for Arkansas History and Culture for preservation. Holzer said:
“I heard Florence Price’s music on a recording that had been released in the early 1990s by the African-American concert pianist Althea Waites. I was very impressed by the beauty and dramatic power of the music, and this is what led me to study her piano works for my doctoral dissertation.”
For more on the revival of Florence Price’s music, check out our talk with violinist Er-Gene Kahng, who performed Price’s lost “Violin Concerto No. 2” with the Arkansas Philharmonic Orchestra earlier this year.