Today in 1887, in Little Rock, Arkansas, a baby girl named Florence Beatrice Smith was born. She would grow up to be the first African-American woman to win widespread recognition as a symphonic composer. All that happened under her married name: Florence Price.
Price studied at the New England Conservatory and with the noted American composers Frederick Converse and George Whitefield Chadwick. She settled in Chicago, and, in 1933, the Chicago Symphony premiered her First Symphony. In 1940, THIS music, from her Symphony No. 3, premiered in Detroit. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was in Detroit that week, and was so impressed by a rehearsal of Price's symphony that she altered her schedule to stay for that evening's performance, and even wrote about the premiere in her newspaper column, "My Day."
And speaking of Eleanor Roosevelt, on today's date in 1939, which fell on Easter Sunday that year, the First Lady and then Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes arranged for the famous African-American contralto, Marion Anderson, to perform a free, open-air recital at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Anderson had been denied use of Constitution Hall by the Daughters of the American Revolution. 75,000 people attended Marion Anderson's recital at the Lincoln Memorial. Marion Anderson admired Florence Price's work, and sang some of Price's songs and spiritual arrangements, including "Songs to the Dark Virgin," a setting of a text by Langston Hughes.
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