Suite of Dances

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            Florence Price, a native of Little Rock, Arkansas, was a pioneer black American composer who distinguished herself early on.  Most notably, she is remembered as the first black American woman to garner success as a composer of symphonic music.  Her first symphony is perhaps her best-known work.  Winner of a national prize, it was given its première in 1933 by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra—a social and cultural milestone in this country at that time.

            At a young age she journeyed north to Boston to study at the New England Conservatory, and returned to Arkansas and Georgia to teach at various small black colleges.  After marriage she and her husband left a racially troubled Arkansas in 1927 for Chicago and her further study at the American Conservatory of Music.  Her career blossomed, and recognition for her art led to the afore-mentioned symphony in 1931, followed by two more symphonies, concertos, and other works for orchestra.  She composed in a variety of other genres:  chamber works, piano music, and vocal compositions--over three hundred in all!  Her songs and arrangements of spirituals were perhaps her most performed compositions.  But, sadly, little of her œuvre has been published; with her increasing popularity today, that very well may change.

            Suite of Dances is an orchestration done around 1950 of her well-known work for piano originally entitled Three Little Negro Dances. This suite is also currently enjoying performances in a duo piano version.   Composed in 1933, these three brief dances are “Rabbit Foot,” “Hoe Cake,” and “Ticklin’ Toes.”  They’re a delightful evocation of the style of southern black folk tunes, and show her to be equally at home in the rustic milieu of her youth as in the concert halls of the big cities.

--Wm. E. Runyan

©2020 William E. Runyan