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Arkansas Symphony honors Little Rock natives Florence Price, William Grant Still and other Black composers

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Arkansas Symphony honors Little Rock natives Florence Price, William Grant Still and other Black composers


The Arkansas Symphony Orchestra held two free concerts in April to celebrate Little Rock natives Florence Price, William Grant Still Sr., and other important African American composers. 

Florence Beatrice Price was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, on April 9, 1887. Florence was a prodigy of piano and an outstanding teacher and composer. She studied at the New England Conservatory in Boston and received an Artist’s Diploma for organ and a piano teacher’s diploma in only three years. Florence also attended the Chicago Musical College. 

She wrote over 300 compositions for orchestral, choral, solo vocal, chamber, piano solos, organ solos, and arrangements of spirituals. Florence received many local rewards and praise for her compositions. The most notable award was the 1st prize in the Wanamaker competition for her Symphony in E minor, which made her the first African American woman to have an orchestral work performed by a major American orchestra. 

In March 2022, ASO released the world-premiere recording of groundbreaking Little Rock composer Florence Price’s own orchestration of her “Piano Concerto in One Movement.”Last year’s recording at the Robinson Center Performance Hall was released before Florence Price Day, April 9, marking 135 years since her birth in Little Rock.

Still grew up in Little Rock and achieved national and international acclaim as a symphonic and popular music composer. As an African American, he broke racial barriers and opened opportunities for other minorities. He strongly advocated for the performance of works by African American composers, including Price’s work. 

Still was born on May 11, 1895, in Woodville, Miss., the only son of William Grant Still Sr., and Carrie Lena Fambro Still. His mother moved to Little Rock with her infant son shortly after the death of her husband in 1895. In 1904, his mother married a railway postal clerk, Charles Benjamin Shepperson, whose interest in music influenced the young Still. With Shepperson’s support, he studied violin in 1908 with American violinist William Price, who lived briefly in Little Rock. He attended M. W. Gibbs High School in Little Rock and graduated in 1911 as class valedictorian. 

During the symphony’s first performance on April 13 at Dunbar Middle School, Artistic Director Geoffrey Robson led the orchestra to perform powerful and moving music while vocalists Sarah Dailey and Nisheedah Golden added their talents. Arkansas Vitality Chief Marketing Officer Angel Burt, who also serves as executive director of the Dunbar Historic Neighborhood Association, gave the welcome at the event. Price and Still were both residents of the largely African American Dunbar community.

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