Florence Beatrice Price took her first piano lessons at the age of 4 and, within a decade, wrote her first composition at age 11.
Her first symphony was written at the age of 48 and gained worldwide attention when she performed it with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the 1932 World’s Fair. She became the first woman. African American to have her symphony performed by a national symphony orchestra.
Price, born 1887 in Little Rock, Ark., Was proud of her work and wanted to share it with the world.
“She was constantly writing letters to have her works performed,” said Karen Walwyn, regional keyboard studies coordinator at Howard University.
Walwyn, pianist and composer, will perform Price’s moving piano concerto with the San Bernardino Symphony at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, December 11 at the California Theater in San Bernardino.
The symphony will also perform Richard Strauss’s dramatic symphonic poem with conductor Anthony Parnther, and former “American Idol” finalist David Archuleta will perform holiday tunes.
Walwyn said it was her first time performing with the San Bernardino Symphony and bringing Price’s work to San Bernardino.
Price was Dr James’ daughter. H. Smith, dentist and activist, and Florence Irene Smith. She had a brother who chose not to live with his black family and moved out.
Walwyn said Price’s father and mother both taught him piano lessons. She graduated from high school at age 14, but was too young to go to college. She started college at the age of 16 at the New England Conservatory.
Her mother, Florence Irene, left her daughter after her divorce from the penniless Smith. Florence Irene moved to Chicago to try and slip into white society, Walwyn said.
“Her mother was trying to protect her when she was at the New England Conservatory,” Walwyn said.
Price received two degrees with a double major in piano and organ. She has taught at Clark University in Atlanta and Shorter College in Little Rock. She never had contact with her mother again.
Florence Beatrice met her husband Thomas Jewell Price, a lawyer, and they married in 1912. They had two daughters.
Florence decided to quit her teaching jobs to stay at home with their daughters. She started writing music so that she could stay at home and give private lessons.
Thomas Price lost his law firm after the lynching of John Carter in 1926 right next to their house, and the couple moved to Chicago.
She noticed a change in their marriage after her husband lost his job and he became abusive towards her. She took their daughters and left him, choosing to live with several of her students.
A student, Margaret Bonds, performed the Florence concerto at concerts in Chicago.
Price focused on writing music and was proud of her African American heritage. She has written about it in books such as “At the Cotton Gin”.
Price wrote his first symphony, which won first place in the Wanamaker competition, and a sonata in E minor.
The two would win cash prizes totaling $ 750.
It was his symphony that captured the attention of the Chicago Symphony and captured its worldwide attention.
Price will write about six letters to the Boston Symphony, which has never performed its work, Walwyn said.
Price was active in women’s music organizations and the National Association of Negro Musicians of Chicago.
She died in 1953 at the age of 66.
Walwyn said Price’s music was rediscovered in 2008 when a couple bought their home in Kankakee, Illinois. The house was run down, but they discovered some of his music in the rubble.
“When she passed away, it was not clear if anyone was taking care of her music,” Walwyn said.
It is now held in a collection at the University of Arkansas.
Walwyn is excited to perform Price’s concerto in one movement next month.
Walwyn was 3 years old when she began to learn piano from her father Claude Walwyn. She took her first piano lessons outdoors at the age of 6.
Walwyn said her parents, Dorothy and Claude, both loved music and dancing. They divorced when Walwyn was in college.
His teachers, Rosalie Gregory at Brown Community College and James Robert Floyd at the University of Miami, were instrumental in his musical career.
Walwyn also studied at Southern Missouri State University.
She began to write compositions, including “Reflections on 9-11”. Walwyn said it was a 57-minute work, with seven movements.
She is proud that her work is performed by others in London and Iowa.
Walwyn also travels to do concerts like the one in San Bernardino. She recently performed at Florida National University.
She was also tasked with writing an opening for the start of next year.
Walwyn said finding out Price’s work and being able to share it with others is inspiring to her.
“It shows the character and strength of this woman,” Walwyn said. “Nothing stopped her. What a blessing to play his music today after it has been lost for decades.
Tickets are $ 30 to $ 100; students and military personnel with ID are $ 15.
Contact the symphonic office at (909) 381-5388 or sanbernardinosymphony.org.