The Heart of a Woman: The Life and Music of Florence B. Price, by Rae Linda Brown. Music in American Life. Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 2020. xxiii, 295 pp.
"This is a huge find," emphasized Rae Linda Brown as she discussed the 2009 discovery of numerous scores by Florence B. Price (1887-1953), previously thought to be lost but now reunited with the composer's other materials at the University of Arkansas. She continued,[T]his is really significant for American music. Florence Price was writing primarily in the 1930s and in the 1940s and this is a pivotal time in American music history. It's when American composers come into their own. So with these pieces, we now can finish this story. We can talk about what a sustained career looks like for an American composer, for a female composer, for an African American composer of the South; and the University of Arkansas Special Collections is going to be the heart of that story.
So, too, is Brown's long-awaited monograph, published three years after the author's passing. In conjunction with the current resurgence of interest in Price's music, it contributes a new chapter to Price's posduimous narrative--one that connects the lives of the composer and the historian. The Heart of a Woman aims to render Price visible "by offering a peek into the private sphere of African American culture, a cultural space that receives little attention in scholarship and popular discourse" (p. 2). However, the foreword and afterword by, respectively, Guthrie P. Ramsey Jr. (Brown's former research assistant, friend, and editor) and Carlene J. Brown (Brown's sister) render visible the concerted efforts of a black female scholar to illuminate this history. Their framings shed light on Price's and Brown's entwined trajectories, beginning with the moment Brown came across Price's Symphony no. 3 in C Minor during her graduate study at Yale in 1979 and continuing to the time of her death in August 2017, shortly before which she told her sister, "My book... publish it... it's done. It's finished" (p. 239). The Heart of a Woman thus conveys the tenacity and resilience of two groundbreaking practitioners: it is the culmination of a lifetime's scholarship and the first monograph to tell Price's story in such depth and breadth.
Brown presents Price's biography in two parts. The first, titled "Southern Roots," traces Price's family tree as tar back as records allow. It depicts Price's upbringing in Little Rock, Arkansas, her studies at the New England Conservatory of Music, and her return to the South, with an emphasis on her roles as a mother, wife, and educator. The second, titled "The 'Dean' of Negro Composers of the Midwest," focuses on Price's activity in Chicago from the late 1920s to her final years. As Price the composer emerges to a greater extent in the second half of the book, Brown increasingly prioritizes the composer's audibility; works such as the Symphony no. 1 in E Minor, Piano Concerto in One Movement, and Symphony...