Florence Beatrice Price was the first African-American woman to be recognized as a symphonic composer, and the first to have a composition played by a major orchestra.
Price was born to Florence Gulliver and James H. Smith on April 9, 1887, in Little Rock, Arkansas. She was one of three children born into a mixed-race family. Her father was a prominent dentist and her mother was a music teacher, both who were well-respected in their community.
Price was given her first musical training by her mother who continued to guide her musical training. Price gave her first piano performance at the age of four and went on to have her first composition published at the age of 11.
By the time she was 14, she had graduated from Capitol High School at the top of her class and was enrolled in the New England Conservatory of Music with a major in piano and organ. Initially, she pretended to be Mexican to avoid the prejudice people had against African Americans at the time. At the Conservatory, she was able to study composition and counterpoint with composers George Chadwick and Frederick Converse. Also while there, she wrote her first string trio and symphony.
Price taught in Arkansas briefly before moving to Atlanta, Georgia, in 1910, where she became the head of Clark Atlanta University’s music department. In 1912, she married Thomas J. Price, a lawyer, and moved back to Little Rock, Arkansas. After a series of racial incidents in Little Rock, particularly a lynching in 1927, the family packed up and relocated to Chicago.
After divorcing her husband, Price struggled as a single parent to make ends meet. She took a job as an organist for silent film screenings and composed songs for radio ads under a pen name. During this time, Price lived with friends and eventually moved in with her student and friend, Margaret Bonds, also a black pianist and composer.
Price and Bonds began working together. They eventually achieved national recognition for their compositions and performances. In 1932, both Price and Bonds submitted compositions for Wanamaker Foundation Awards. Price won first prize with her Symphony in E minor, and third for her Piano Sonata, earning her a $500 prize. On June 3, 1953, Price died from a stroke in Chicago, Illinois.