The Heart of a Woman: The Life and Music of Florence B. Price.

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Author: Lauren Shepherd
Date: Spring 2021
From: Current Musicology(Issue 108)
Publisher: Columbia University, Department of Music
Document Type: Article
Length: 3,535 words
Lexile Measure: 1490L

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Brown, Rae Linda. 2020. The Heart of a Woman: The Life and Music of Florence B. Price. Champaign: University of Illinois Press.

The recent calls to diversify the classical Western canon have permeated all areas of music scholarship. In answering these calls, many invoke the name of Florence B. Price (nee Smith; 1887-1953), an African American composer and pianist whose career spanned the first half of the twentieth century. Though some may be familiar with her larger symphonic works (thanks to publicity from Alex Ross [2018] and other journalists), this monograph marks the first full scholarly biography focused entirely on Price. In light of the ongoing work of the Black Lives Matter movement and the greater push to include a more diverse musical repertoire in classrooms and concert halls, the 2020 publication of a biography of the first African American woman to find success as a composer in America seems particularly timely.

In The Heart of a Woman: The Life and Music of Florence B. Price, Rae Linda Brown exceeds the expectations of a typical biographer. Brown frames Florence B. Price's life within the broader context of African American culture to "place the music of Florence Price in the proper musical and historical perspective" (1). Delightfully thorough yet succinct, this biography carefully considers how the interwoven and conflicting issues of gender, race, and class impacted Price. By examining not just Price's life but the social and political cultures around it, Brown pushes beyond the standard biographical question of "Who was Florence Price?" to investigate the complex racial and gendered prejudices that influenced Price's compositional output. Brown takes advantage of all available archival material throughout the monograph: Whether using personal interviews from Price's life or interpreting documents and letters contained within the archives, Brown carefully and graciously untangles the complex narratives surrounding Price's public success and rather private personal life.

Published posthumously and edited by Brown's former research assistant and current Professor of Music at the University of Pennsylvania, Guthrie P. Ramsey, Jr., The Heart of a Woman provides an interdisciplinary perspective on Price's life. Not only is this a must-read for anyone wanting to learn more about Price herself or the culture surrounding African Americans of her generation, but it is also paramount for any scholar of American music, posing many avenues of inquiry for further exploration into Price's life and archive within a larger cultural framework. Scholars interested in American nationalism, African American life and culture at the turn of the twentieth century, the Harlem Renaissance, or the Chicago Renaissance will benefit from this study of Price's life. As Ramsey states in the Foreword, "The Heart of a Woman can be considered a contemporary statement on black feminist thought" (xiv).

Brown chronologically tells Price's story by separating the monograph into two larger sections: Part 1, "Southern Roots" (chapters 1-6); and Part 2, "The 'Dean' of Negro Composers of the Midwest" (chapters 7-19). This sectioning also separates Price's life geographically between Little Rock, Arkansas and Chicago rather than strictly by...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A683246418