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

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The Heart of a Woman offers the first-ever biography of Florence B. Price, a composer whose career spanned both the Harlem and Chicago Renaissances, and the first African American woman to gain national recognition for her works. Price's twenty-five years in Chicago formed the core of a working life that saw her create three hundred works in diverse genres, including symph The Heart of a Woman offers the first-ever biography of Florence B. Price, a composer whose career spanned both the Harlem and Chicago Renaissances, and the first African American woman to gain national recognition for her works. Price's twenty-five years in Chicago formed the core of a working life that saw her create three hundred works in diverse genres, including symphonies and orchestral suites, art songs, vocal and choral music, and arrangements of spirituals. Through interviews and a wealth of material from public and private archives, Rae Linda Brown illuminates Price's major works while exploring the considerable depth of her achievement. Brown also traces the life of the extremely private individual from her childhood in Little Rock through her time at the New England Conservatory, her extensive teaching, and her struggles with racism, poverty, and professional jealousies. In addition, Brown provides musicians and scholars with dozens of musical examples.


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The Heart of a Woman offers the first-ever biography of Florence B. Price, a composer whose career spanned both the Harlem and Chicago Renaissances, and the first African American woman to gain national recognition for her works. Price's twenty-five years in Chicago formed the core of a working life that saw her create three hundred works in diverse genres, including symph The Heart of a Woman offers the first-ever biography of Florence B. Price, a composer whose career spanned both the Harlem and Chicago Renaissances, and the first African American woman to gain national recognition for her works. Price's twenty-five years in Chicago formed the core of a working life that saw her create three hundred works in diverse genres, including symphonies and orchestral suites, art songs, vocal and choral music, and arrangements of spirituals. Through interviews and a wealth of material from public and private archives, Rae Linda Brown illuminates Price's major works while exploring the considerable depth of her achievement. Brown also traces the life of the extremely private individual from her childhood in Little Rock through her time at the New England Conservatory, her extensive teaching, and her struggles with racism, poverty, and professional jealousies. In addition, Brown provides musicians and scholars with dozens of musical examples.

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

  1. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie Jane

    See more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits Compiling The Heart Of A Woman was very much a labour of love for Rae Linda Brown who did see her project through to completion, but died before its submission for publication. The evidence of Brown's extensive research is breathtaking and, although her scholarly prose style did occasionally become a little too dry for my tastes, overall I enjoyed reading this biography of a very talented women, Florence Price, of whom I had previously been c See more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits Compiling The Heart Of A Woman was very much a labour of love for Rae Linda Brown who did see her project through to completion, but died before its submission for publication. The evidence of Brown's extensive research is breathtaking and, although her scholarly prose style did occasionally become a little too dry for my tastes, overall I enjoyed reading this biography of a very talented women, Florence Price, of whom I had previously been completely unaware. Since studying for GCSE Music over a quarter of a century ago (eeek!) I haven't given much thought to classical music, but I was grateful that enough of the terminology had sunk in that I was able to follow Brown through her technical descriptions of Price's work. I loved that snippets of the sheet music are dotted about the text so I could see and imagine the examples to which Brown was referring. It would be wonderful if this biography could also be accompanied by a recording of some of the songs and perhaps a symphony or two as well. Having read so much about Price, by the end of The Heart Of A Woman I was keen to actually hear a selection of the most famous compositions so I was delighted to find a few YouTube videos of Price's work being performed. (If you're reading this review on my blog, Literary Flits, I've embedded two of my favourite YouTubes towards the end of the post. In common with other biographies I have read where primary source material about the subject is scarce, Brown presents information about linked and surrounding themes in order to fill out her picture of Price's life. Newspapers such as the Chicago Defender regularly detailed her professional musical engagements though the 1930s and 1940s, however as a shy and private woman, Price preferred to keep her personal life to herself. Therefore some of her life story had to be inferred. I was impressed that Brown didn't use this device too frequently and also that her employment of complementary information always felt useful and as though it added to our portrait. Florence Price and her music are receiving a very well deserved resurgence of interest and I am so pleased to have had this opportunity to read her biography at this point in time. I loved learning about the Chicago Renaissance too. The Heart Of A Woman, in my opinion, doesn't have the best of titles for a scholarly musical biography so I hope it will gain a serious readership despite that. I recommend it for anyone interested in discovering classical music history, African American history, and overlooked women.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Kendra

    This is a very solid and well-written introduction to the life and works of composer Florence Price. Extensively researched over the course of Rae Linda Brown's career, The Heart of a Woman (despite the sentimental and cloying title) is primarily a biography of Price with a bit of music analysis. Non-musicians can easily skip over the short, more technical sections, and still gain an understanding of Price's music and the context in which it was written. While I find there to be a little too muc This is a very solid and well-written introduction to the life and works of composer Florence Price. Extensively researched over the course of Rae Linda Brown's career, The Heart of a Woman (despite the sentimental and cloying title) is primarily a biography of Price with a bit of music analysis. Non-musicians can easily skip over the short, more technical sections, and still gain an understanding of Price's music and the context in which it was written. While I find there to be a little too much supposition without evidence in the book for my comfort and wish there had been more and deeper analysis, the book serves its purpose as a first stop in getting to know Price and her works. A lot of research has been published--and many excellent recordings issued--on and about Price's work in the last ten years, but Brown's contribution to the understanding of African American composers in the twentieth century cannot be overstated.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Karin

    Before I write about this book, I thought I would mention that I first heard about Florence B. Price when my son played something by her with a large ensemble at his college. He was excited to play a piece by a composer he thinks is as good as the best of the best. When I sent links of her music to my father, it turns out his father was a fan of hers. I would love to know if my grandfather got to hear her music live when it was performed in Canada, by reading about her or by hearing one of her r Before I write about this book, I thought I would mention that I first heard about Florence B. Price when my son played something by her with a large ensemble at his college. He was excited to play a piece by a composer he thinks is as good as the best of the best. When I sent links of her music to my father, it turns out his father was a fan of hers. I would love to know if my grandfather got to hear her music live when it was performed in Canada, by reading about her or by hearing one of her recordings. She is now one of my favourite classical music composers. I happened to look for a book about her just after this was released. The title is a good one. This isn't just a biography, it also discusses her music in some depth. If you are not a musician, you might not want to wade into some of the more detailed bits, but of course, you can hear some of these pieces on Youtube, which will help with those. I can't think of one good reason not to listen to her works, and I am going to link a few of my favourites by her at the end of this. Of course, my favourite Price symphony is not my son's favourite one, so feel free to look for other work by her. Florence B. Price (her professional name--her mother was also a Florence so she was always called by her middle name, Beatrice) was born and raised in Little Rock, Arkansas during a time when racism was at a lower point there (before the enactment of the Jim Crow laws legally and an influx of more racist whites), although of course she did have problems with that. The book was helpful, because it explained that even though New England Conservatory (now very diverse) did accept black students, they were still separated in many ways. Her mother insisted she pass herself off as Mexican and that she rent an apartment with a maid. In any event, Price excelled there, but when she returned to Little Rock she never passed for Mexican or anything else again, because she fully embraced her black culture. I don't want to give a lot of spoilers, but suffice it to say that racism in Little Rock surged and ran rampant, the Ku Klux Klan came in and at one point she and her husband fled to Chicago due to threats on one of their young daughters. Brown lived in Chicago at a good time for black composers, but you really need to read the book to get the good, the bad and the ugly. Why did her music get forgotten when she was so brilliant? I can't say that it was all because of her race, because of course all women were having a lot of trouble, but racism would have had an effect. But having both a cousin and a very old, good friend who are composers, and having rubbed shoulders with many, it is also true that there are far more classical composers out there than there are places to perform them, even if orchestras didn't have to include known composers to keep their subscribers happy (it isn't cheap to buy tickets). Even today with the much needed push to include more diversity in composers, there isn't enough room to get everyone in. What I am happy about is that she is finally getting more notice, thanks to dedicated scholars as well as musicians. Dr. Ollie Watts Davis has performed a number of Price's songs, Richard Heard edited and helped put out a book of 44 of her art songs & sprituals via Classical Vocal Reprints, James Greeson offers his transcription of at least one of her songs to those who request it (they are now public domain, I guess). Dr. Ollie Watts Davis singing one of Price's songs (words by poet Langston Hughes) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PaCB_... I love this symphony, which is performed at Rae Linda Brown's alma mater https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VPjRu... I love this violin concerto https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jMRTU... Here is the Boston Children's Chorus at Symphony Hall during a MKL tribut singing her Resignation https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LRDmk... Price wrote a lot of choral and organ music, including for churches, and here is the University of Arkansa Schola Cantorum singing one https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VeII8... I will stop here, but this just scratches the surface. It is so sad that some of her music is lost, including her second symphony, but before computer software, it was very expensive to have orchestral scores published on your own.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Nicolas Lontel

    Une fantastique biographie sur Florence Beatrice Price par Rae Linda Brown qui aura consacrée une partie de sa vie à explorer cette compositrice, trouver les partitions à droite et à gauche, trouver une correspondance d'une personne qui aura laissé quand même assez peu de trace au final malgré son importance majeure dans l'histoire étatsunienne (il s'agit de la première compositrice classique afro-américaine "de renom" dans l'histoire). La biographie compense pour les périodes moins connues dans Une fantastique biographie sur Florence Beatrice Price par Rae Linda Brown qui aura consacrée une partie de sa vie à explorer cette compositrice, trouver les partitions à droite et à gauche, trouver une correspondance d'une personne qui aura laissé quand même assez peu de trace au final malgré son importance majeure dans l'histoire étatsunienne (il s'agit de la première compositrice classique afro-américaine "de renom" dans l'histoire). La biographie compense pour les périodes moins connues dans la vie de Price par des explorations des figures qui l'entourent, mais aussi des analyses musicales (qui demande quand même de bonnes connaissances musicales pour comprendre, mais elles ne sont jamais très longues donc peuvent être sautées au besoin) et des observations des sociétés et mouvements importants à l'époque. Cette biographie met de l'avant la participation de la vie de Price dans la culture afro-américaine, comment elle s'en est inspirée, mais aussi comment la compositrice elle-même a participé à créer une partie de cette culture. Les questions de métissage, de "passing" sont aussi abordées, impossible de les contourner, et on explore bien comment Price a pu se sentir face à ces enjeux. J'apprécie beaucoup l'inclusion de partie de partitions et l'analyse qui en est faite (même si je n'ai pas la culture musicale suffisante pour tout comprendre), et de comment ces compositions s'inscrivent dans une continuité de la musique afro-américaine, cela permet vraiment de faire ressortir des éléments importants de l'inscription des américain·es noir·es dans la musique classique sans plaquer un héritage sur un autre, mais comment les deux s'informent et s'harmonisent dans les compositions de Price. Je pense que toutes les personnes adorant la musique classique devraient connaître Price, à défaut de lire cette biographique, au moins écouter ses deux symphonies et quelques une de ses pièces. L'héritage de cette compositrice est brillamment mis de l'avant par Rae Linda Brown et on ne peut qu'apprécier l'immense travail de plusieurs décennies qui a été mis dans la rédaction de cette biographique.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Meghan

    This book was received as an ARC from University of Illinois Press in exchange for an honest review. Opinions and thoughts expressed in this review are completely my own. Before reading this book I was not familiar with Florence B. Price and the legacy she left with music composition. Rae Linda Brown does a phenomenal job including as much information possible on her childhood, upbringing, education, struggles and of course her work. I am glad she included some music examples that we were able to This book was received as an ARC from University of Illinois Press in exchange for an honest review. Opinions and thoughts expressed in this review are completely my own. Before reading this book I was not familiar with Florence B. Price and the legacy she left with music composition. Rae Linda Brown does a phenomenal job including as much information possible on her childhood, upbringing, education, struggles and of course her work. I am glad she included some music examples that we were able to play and as soon as we hit the first note, we immediately recognized the songs. It is also inspirational not just for Black History but for Women empowerment to see if you put your mind to something just as Florence did, you can accomplish anything despite your race and gender. Even though the story was compelling and inspirational, a lot of our readers may not be familiar with Florence B. Price but I know if we feature it in a display, readers will be curious and hopefully like it. We will consider adding this title to our Biography collection at our library. That is why we give this book 5 stars.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Alison Starnes

    I am a violinist in my local symphony orchestra and a lover of classical music. A few months ago, I purchased a CD of music by Florence Price and was fascinated by a woman who, despite her racial background, became successful as a composer. This book offered an opportunity to find out more about her, how she lived, and how she achieved recognition for her talent. The book is written with a level of clarity and detail that not only presents the achievements of Florence Beatrice Price, but also chr I am a violinist in my local symphony orchestra and a lover of classical music. A few months ago, I purchased a CD of music by Florence Price and was fascinated by a woman who, despite her racial background, became successful as a composer. This book offered an opportunity to find out more about her, how she lived, and how she achieved recognition for her talent. The book is written with a level of clarity and detail that not only presents the achievements of Florence Beatrice Price, but also chronicles the struggles and hardships she faced during her lifetime and chosen career. The book also sets Florence Price in the context of the times she lived in, when black Americans were not regarded as equal citizens and subjected to disenfranchisement in many forms. Florence Price was the first black woman composer to have a symphony performed by a major orchestra. She navigated the politics of skin colour, survived an abusive marriage and 'fought her entire life to be heard and seen’. The story of Florence's life is fascinating, given that it also chronicles the work and achievements of several other important black musicians and composers, many of whom she knew and considered to be friends. Florence Price was a private woman who suffered from 'unconquerable shyness' and this often inhibited her from promoting her own music. The author, Rae Linda Brown, writes movingly of Florence's determination and desire to become a composer. She studied for two degrees simultaneously and graduated in both. By the 1930s, Florence Price was a serious composer, writing in all genres apart from opera, and her music was regularly performed. She was also accomplished as a pianist and organist. Florence Price composed three major works from 1931-1940, the Symphony in E minor, the Piano Concerto in One Movement and the Symphony in C. Florence's Symphony No. 1 was performed in Chicago in 1933, with George Gershwin among the audience. Florence Price continued writing large-scale works during the 1940s and 1950s. She died in June 1953. She had been planning a trip to Europe around that time. Florence Price was aware of the polemics surrounding female composers. Her ultimate goal was for her large-scale works to be recognised and performed by the East Coast musical establishment; however, this did not happen in her lifetime. Rae Linda Brown said in a speech that she chose to write about Florence Price because: “I needed to bring her from invisibility to visibility and document her life and her music so that her legacy could be a lived legacy.” On the evidence of this book, there is an extensive legacy and the music of this talented and industrious woman deserves a far wider audience. I look forward to hearing more of Florence Price's music as it becomes available. In the meantime, this book is warmly recommended. I was sent an advance review copy of this book by the University of Illinois Press in return for an honest appraisal.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Kayleigh Hills

    This is a thoroughly researched and complex piece covering the life, trials and achievements of Florence B. Price. The author provides extensive context to Price’s life, with attention paid to factors relating to her gender, race, socio-economic position in society and how her ambitions and achievements might be viewed in light of all of these. The depth of detail and breadth of subject makes this much more than a biography of an individual; perhaps it would be more fitting to consider it a piec This is a thoroughly researched and complex piece covering the life, trials and achievements of Florence B. Price. The author provides extensive context to Price’s life, with attention paid to factors relating to her gender, race, socio-economic position in society and how her ambitions and achievements might be viewed in light of all of these. The depth of detail and breadth of subject makes this much more than a biography of an individual; perhaps it would be more fitting to consider it a piece of social and musical research. Dr Brown’s dedication to her subject is unquestionable, but I found at times Price’s life was swallowed up by the detailed description of the events of the times and other friends, supporters and colleagues. While it is valuable to understand the influence Price had upon the development of this genre of music (and beyond, including the links with Maya Angelou’s I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings and The Heart of a Woman), the inclusion of so many others in her story makes for a complicated read. That said, her many achievements stand out from the commentary of the book and her legacy clearly demonstrates the influence that she had on musical and political culture. It was a pleasure to read how one woman could achieve so much, while being so modest of her own achievements.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jean Marie Wilson

    Florence Price Florence Price was a talented African-American classical music composer and songwriter. Dr. Brown brings her, her music, and her time to life. The sad part is that both Mrs. Price's and Dr. Brown's lives were cut short by illness. There is music theory in this book and not a lot made sense to me....but the book is worth reading to truly understand Mrs. Price's music. Florence Price Florence Price was a talented African-American classical music composer and songwriter. Dr. Brown brings her, her music, and her time to life. The sad part is that both Mrs. Price's and Dr. Brown's lives were cut short by illness. There is music theory in this book and not a lot made sense to me....but the book is worth reading to truly understand Mrs. Price's music.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Janet Lynch

    This is the definitive biography of Florence Price, the first African American woman who composed a symphony performed by a major orchestra. The late musicologist Rae Linda Brown made researching and writing about Florence Price her major life's work. No only is the biographical information detailed and painstakingly correct, Brown does an excellent job describing and analyzing Price's music. Florence Price wrote over 300 compositions. Advance to YouTube for your listening pleasure. This is the definitive biography of Florence Price, the first African American woman who composed a symphony performed by a major orchestra. The late musicologist Rae Linda Brown made researching and writing about Florence Price her major life's work. No only is the biographical information detailed and painstakingly correct, Brown does an excellent job describing and analyzing Price's music. Florence Price wrote over 300 compositions. Advance to YouTube for your listening pleasure.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    A very well written story about the life and times of Florence B. Price, an African American Pianist and composer. She was well known in all the towns that she lived. Boston, Chicago, and Little Rock where she was born and raised. I will recommend this book to all the people I know who love music an history. It was well worth the time to read!

  11. 4 out of 5

    Julia

    Good book about a little known singer. Definitely would recommend to music and opera enthusiasts and history buffs. Well researched and a but repetitive in some parts but a good read nevertheless. I found myself noting other people and books referenced that I will be researching.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Tim Vermande

    http://flyingkittymonster.blogspot.co... http://flyingkittymonster.blogspot.co...

  13. 4 out of 5

    Juliana

    A solid look at this notable Black female composer and the historical framework and importance of her life.

  14. 4 out of 5

    LimeCream

    This fascinating biography offers a look at the life and work of the very talented and prolific Florence B. Price. I found this book to be well-written and I enjoyed it very much. Thank you to NetGalley and to the publisher for the opportunity to read this in exchange for an honest review.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jena Henry

    This nonfiction book presents detailed research on the life and music of Florence Beatrice Smith. (Price). Florence Smith earned her place in American history as a prominent composer of symphonies and other classical type works. She was a woman and an African American and her life shows the challenges of the times. America’s first significant African American composer was born In Little Rock, Arkansas in 1887. At that time, Little Rock was the pride of the South. Florence Smith’s family was educ This nonfiction book presents detailed research on the life and music of Florence Beatrice Smith. (Price). Florence Smith earned her place in American history as a prominent composer of symphonies and other classical type works. She was a woman and an African American and her life shows the challenges of the times. America’s first significant African American composer was born In Little Rock, Arkansas in 1887. At that time, Little Rock was the pride of the South. Florence Smith’s family was educated, professional class, and well respected. Florence had access to school, the arts and to other prominent African American Leaders. She was able to attend the New England Conservatory of Music. Sadly, at school she identified herself as “Mexican” but her lifelong exploration of self through her music enabled to her to grown beyond the “politics of respectability.” This book was written by an African American woman, a scholar and professor. The writing is scholarly and somewhat dry, but through it shines the inspiration of Florence Smith as she broke the racial and gender barriers for African American women composers. Thanks to NetGalley and the University of Illinois Press for an advance review copy. This is my honest review.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Cassie

    Tomlinson, 2/16/2022

  17. 4 out of 5

    Elena F.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Misty

  19. 4 out of 5

    Susan

  20. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

  21. 5 out of 5

    M23

  22. 5 out of 5

    Holden Miller

  23. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Maguire

  24. 4 out of 5

    Julian

  25. 4 out of 5

    Louis Bergonzi

  26. 4 out of 5

    Mounir Nessim

  27. 5 out of 5

    Elle Tyler

  28. 4 out of 5

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  29. 4 out of 5

    Kristin Haglund

  30. 5 out of 5

    Kori

  31. 5 out of 5

    Cristie Underwood

  32. 5 out of 5

    Luke

  33. 5 out of 5

    UnusualChild{beppy}

  34. 4 out of 5

    Candice

  35. 5 out of 5

    Bridget

  36. 4 out of 5

    Kathryn

  37. 5 out of 5

    Tracy

  38. 5 out of 5

    Jena Henry

  39. 5 out of 5

    Kenshayla Robinson

  40. 5 out of 5

    Irischeng3gmail.Com

  41. 5 out of 5

    Francisca Vera Torres

  42. 4 out of 5

    Leigh Anne

  43. 4 out of 5

    Nathan Huhta

  44. 5 out of 5

    Art Hill

  45. 5 out of 5

    Wonderwoman

  46. 5 out of 5

    Aisling Kraus

  47. 5 out of 5

    Wayla

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