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Ella Sheppard and the Fisk Jubilee Singers

Ella Sheppard


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The Jubilee Singers: Sacrifice and Glory


"On November 16, 1871, a group of unknown singers — all but two of them formerly enslaved and many of them still in their teens — arrived at Oberlin College in Ohio to perform before a national convention of influential ministers. After a few standard ballads, the chorus began to sing spirituals -- "Steal Away" and other songs" associated with slavery and the dark past, sacred to our parents," as soprano Ella Sheppard recalled. It was one of the first public performances of the secret music African Americans had sung in fields and behind closed doors."

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Walk Together Children:

The 150th Anniversary of the Fisk Jubilee Singers


In Walk Together Children: The 150th Anniversary of the Fisk Jubilee Singers, Dr. Paul T. Kwami and the current singers explore the stories of the world-renowned ensemble's original nine members and reflect on their roles as students and preservers of the group’s legacy. Directed by Jon Royal in collaboration with Dr. Kwami, the performance film is produced by Tennessee Performing Arts Center.


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Missing History - Episode 28

A podcast by two friends who discuss women from history they've never heard of before. Inspired by that all too common feeling, "How did I not know about her?!?", we aim to elevate the stories of a wide range of woman, from Egyptian civil rights activists to medieval nuns to the first female (almost) astronauts. We share their stories, discuss their impact and why they've been ignored or sidelined, and often get a little mad at the patriarchy.

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Reflections in Black: Ella Sheppard


Born in 1851, Ella Sheppard was enslaved on the Hermitage Plantation in Hermitage, Tenn. After learning that her daughter was being trained to spy on her, Ella's mother went to the river to drown both of them to escape the bonds of slavery. On approaching the river, Ella's mother was stopped by an elderly enslaved woman who insisted that no harm come to the child. Ella was eventually bought by her father and sent to Nashville. They then eventually moved to Cincinnati, where she began her musical training. She worked with distinguished music teachers to learn piano and singing. Ella returned to Tennessee to help educate freed people. She enrolled in Fisk University in 1868 and was asked to be assistant instructor for a new group of singers at the university. This group became the Fisk Jubilee Singers, known for traveling around the world, singing classics and old spirituals that were sacred to those who had been enslaved. 

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The Story of Jubilee

Jemima B. Jones

Author and Playwright Jamima B. Jones narrates her own, eleven-episode creation: "The Story of Jubilee"; tales of post-slavery, African-American history through the eyes of the original Fisk Jubilee Singers and the Arts. Educational, Entertaining and Empowering.

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Dr. Paul T. Kwami

Squeeze the Day - a FiftyForward podcast

With a Passion for Music, History and Preserving a Legacy, Dr. Paul T. Kwami Is at the Right Place at the Right Time as He Mentors Students and Honors the 150-Year Musical Legacy of the Fisk Jubilee Singers.

Originally from Ghana, Dr. T. Kwami credits his parents for instilling in him the love of music. In this podcast, he shares priceless stories about moving to the U.S., finding Fisk University, and becoming a Fisk Jubilee Singer. Now a faculty member and director of the legendary singing group, Dr. Kwami is dedicated to preserving the heritage of this 150-year-old group as they take jubilee music and its message to audiences across the globe.



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Chariot in the Sky

A Novel of the Jubilee Singers

Arna Bontemps

Publisher: Oxford University Press


Written in 1951 by Arna Bontemps, major literary figure of the Harlem Renaissance and close friend of Langston Hughes, Chariot in the Sky tells the story of the Jubilee Singers through the life of a young slave boy, Caleb, who becomes one of their earliest members. Caleb is a teenage slave sent to Charleston, South Carolina, to apprentice a tailor. Through careful listening and observation, Caleb diligently teaches himself to read and write. He also discovers his musical talents and develops into an accomplished singer.

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Spirituals and the Birth of a Black Entertainment Industry

Showbiz shaping sacred song's soaring success

Sandra Jean Graham

Publisher: University of Illinois Press


Spirituals performed by jubilee troupes became a sensation in post–Civil War America. First brought to the stage by choral ensembles like the Fisk Jubilee Singers, spirituals anchored a wide range of late nineteenth-century entertainments, including minstrelsy, variety, and plays by both black and white companies.

In the first book-length treatment of postbellum spirituals in theatrical entertainments, Sandra Jean Graham mines a trove of resources to chart the spiritual’s journey from the private lives of slaves to the concert stage. Graham navigates the conflicting agendas of those who, in adapting spirituals for their own ends, sold conceptions of racial identity to their patrons. In so doing they laid the foundation for a black entertainment industry whose artistic, financial, and cultural practices extended into the twentieth century.

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Dark Midnight When I Rise

The Story of the Jubilee Singers Who Introduced the World to the Music of Black America

Andrew Ward

Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux

"In the late 1860s, students excavating the grounds of a Nashville freedmen's school called Fisk University made a gruesome discovery. Digging just beneath the surface of the earth, they came upon heaps of chains and manacles from Porter's Slave Yard, where, up to the time of Yankee occupation, enslaved men, women, and children had been bought and sold. They did not let these rusted relics of their bondage lie buried. They gathered them together instead and sold them for scrap iron and, with the proceeds, bought Bibles and spellers, turning the instruments of their enslavement into the agencies of their liberation.

The Jubilee Singers would use the same alchemy to champion the freedmen and rescue their school from oblivion. Impoverished, bedraggled, half starved, they took the secret, sacred hymns of their bondage and not only "sang up the walls of a great university" but taught the nation and the world an enduring lesson about the dignity and educability of black Americans."


ES - Archives

Consists of materials focused on the activities of the Fisk University Jubilee Singers -- There is an abundance of correspondence from members including George White (organizer), Ella Sheppard Moore, Mabel Imes, America Robinson, Maggie Porter, and Julia Jackson. Also includes newspaper clippings, photographs, publicity materials, and programs. The intellect of Ella Sheppard Moore is made apparent through her many manuscripts and publications in the collection. The Jubilee Singers documented there expeditions very well, as shown in the collection's multiple scrapbooks, while the sheet music captures the historical music and arrangements dating back to 1872. In addition, there are three archival boxes filled with materials collected by the Jubilee Singers during their excursions throughout the United States and Europe. Materials include biographical data, autographs, news clippings, contracts, financial reports, music, radio scripts, correspondence, diaries of Ella Sheppard Moore (1877-1878), engagements, scrapbooks, photographs, and memorabilia. Correspondents include Gustavus D. Pike, George L. White, Mrs. Clinton B. Fisk, and America Robinson

The Fisk Jubilee Singers originated with nine students, Isaac Dickerson, Maggie Porter, Minnie Tate, Jennie Jackson, Benjamin Holmes, Thomas Rutling, Eliza Walker, Green Evans, and Ella Sheppard, who set out on a concert tour of the North on 6 Oct. 1871 to save the financially ailing Fisk University; idea to form the group was conceived by George L. White, Fisk University's white treasurer; because the University disapproved of the idea, White had to borrow money for the tour; White gave the group the name Jubilee Singers in memory of the Jewish Year of Jubilee

View Finding Aids:

Yale University Special Collections

Yale University's Special Collections - namely the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library - is home to several collections featuring significant Fisk Jubilee Singers materials. The Orpheus M. McAdoo Papers include scrapbooks containing announcements, clippings, and ephemera for the Fisk Jubilee Singers Tour of Australia in 1886-1888. MacAdoo was a member of the Jubilee Singers and director of the Virginia Concert Company and Jubilee Singers. The James Weldon Johnson Collection of Photographs of prominent African Americans, the Hampton Institute collection, and other papers contain additional materials of significans







Various Titles

The Hildegard Publishing Margaret Bonds Signature Series was launched in 2021. Hildegard Publishing is honored to be able to offer a varied collection of Bonds' previously unpublished music for today's musicians to enjoy, learn and perform.

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Various Titles 

Based in Arkansas, and run by Glendower Jones, Classical Vocal Reprints is a comprehensive source for sheet music - including rare, scholarly, and lesser-known publications. Classical Vocal Reprints is also committed to celebrating the musical voices of women and underrepresented minorities. Recent Margaret Bonds publications include a significant song anthology, edited by Dr. Louise Toppin.



The Negro Speaks of Rivers

SATB arrangement

Music by Margaret Bonds.

Words by Langston Hughes.

Introduced by Etta Motem

Published by Handy Brothers Music Co., Inc, New York, NY

BONDS - popular media



"Margaret Bonds studied with Florence Price, and was the first Black soloist to perform with Chicago Symphony"

Written by: Maddy Shaw Roberts

Published: 21 May 2021


"The Word is Bonds"

Written by: James Bennett II

Published: 3 February 2021


"A forgotten voice for civil rights rises in song at Georgetown"

Written by: Anne Midgette

Published: 10 November 2017


"At 100, Composer Margaret Bonds Remains A Great Exception"

Heard on: All Things Considered

Published: 03 March 2013

BONDS - podcasts


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Masterful Movements for THE Movement - Margaret Bonds

Melanated Moments in Classical Music

Hosts Joshua Thompson and Angela Brown acquaint us with the groundbreaking composer and pianist, Margaret Bonds. Joshua takes us through the life of Margaret Bonds who was at the epicenter of cultural and artistic expression during the turn of the 20th century, collaborating with luminaries Florence Price and Langston Hughes among others. We hear a performance of Bonds’ Montgomery Variations, performed by the University of Connecticut Symphony Orchestra, a stunning example of the composer’s ability to “score” the civil rights movement.

Featured music: Montgomery Variations by Margaret Bonds performed by the University of Connecticut Symphony Orchestra

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Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening: Robert Frost and Margaret Bonds


Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” is one of the most famous poems in the English language, and it has been set to music by many composers. This episode explores an extraordinarily inventive setting by the Black American composer Margaret Bonds (1913–1972), recently recorded by bass-baritone Justin Hopkins and pianist Jeanne-Minette Cilliers and soon to be published by Hildegard Publishing Company, in an edition by John Michael Cooper.This recording comes from a playlist created by Hopkins and Cilliers, which includes performances of music by Florence Price and Margaret Bonds.See also John Michael Cooper’s blog post on this song, as well as the list of Bonds works published by Hildegard Publishing Company.

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Margaret Bonds Speaks of Rivers

Classical Queens

Join me, Jessica Joy, as I share my research of forgotten women who have done much to contribute to America’s musical identity. See their lives unfold, understand their musical impact, and then consider with me, the ways their stories could still impact our current communities. These are the stories of Black women in classical music who have been slayin’, seen and unseen, for hundreds of years. I hope you tune in for this bi-weekly podcast.

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Margaret Bonds (1913-1972)

VPR Classical Timeline

Join VPR Classical host James Stewart on a journey into the events, characters and concepts that shaped our Western musical tradition. We'll start at the very beginning and trace the steps of music through history. This music, and its history, is ours.

Bonds was a composer who wore her heart on her sleeve. She left behind a legacy of activism and artistry, paving the way for many African-American musicians to follow.

BONDS - books




African-American Women Composers and Their Music

By Helen Walker-Hill

Publisher: 2007, University of Illinois Press


Exploding the assumption that black women's only important musical contributions have been in folk, jazz, and pop.


Helen Walker-Hill's unique study provides a carefully researched examination of the history and scope of musical composition by African-American women composers from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Exploding the assumption that black women's only important musical contributions have been in folk, jazz, and pop, From Spirituals to Symphonies focuses on the effect of race, gender, and class, and notes the important role played by individual personalities and circumstances in shaping this under-appreciated category of American art. The study also provides in-depth exploration of the backgrounds, experiences, and musical compositions of eight African-American women including Margaret Bonds, Undine Smith Moore, and Julia Perry, who combined the techniques of Western art music with their own cultural traditions and individual gifts. Despite having gained national and international recognition during their lifetimes, the contributions of many of these women are today forgotten.

BONDS - archival materials



Vocal music, most 1960s or undated, consisting of autograph manuscript drafts and arrangements, transparencies, and diazo reproductions, some accompanied by copies of published music; and a small amount of other papers. Autograph manuscript music includes spirituals arranged for solo voice or chorus; The Negro Speaks of Rivers, Songs of the Seasons, Three Dream Portraits, and other songs on texts by Langston Hughes; songs on texts by Edna St. Vincent Millay and other poets; and musicals and songs with lyrics by Janice Lovoos, some with related correspondence. Other papers consist of a scrapbook containing photographs, clippings, and ephemera, most circa 1928-1930, some relating to Lincoln University, Pennsylvania, and Lawrence Richardson; and two books containing biographical information about Bonds and analysis of her music: Mildred Denby Green, Black Women Composers: A Genesis (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1983), and Alice Tischler, Fifteen Black American Composers: A Bibliography of Their Works (Detroit: Information Coordinators, 1981). 


Music manuscripts, correspondence and ephemera including correspondence from Langston Hughes.

Majority of material found within 1930s-1970s


The Margaret Bonds Papers (5.4 lin. ft.), are arranged in three series: PERSONAL PAPERS (.4 lin. ft.), CORRESPONDENCE (.8 lin. ft.), and CREATIVE WORKS (4.4 lin. ft.). Margaret Bonds produced a wide range of works spanning orchestral compositions, theatrical accompaniments and traditional African-American spiritual arrangements throughout her career. She is widely credited with creating new interest in traditional African-American musical forms, history and culture. The papers document her personal life and professional process through correspondence, her work notes, lyrics, scripts and sheet music.

BONDS - Journal Articles


People of color Who Write Classical Music: Recovering “Lost” Music by Black Composers as Resistance and Revolution

 by John Michael Cooper

Black History Bulletin

BONDS -dissertations


Expressions of African American identity in the cantata “Simon Bore the Cross” by Margaret Bonds and Langston Hughes

by Allegra Martin

Abstract: This dissertation examines the cantata Simon Bore the Cross by the composer Margaret Bonds and the poet Langston Hughes, a work that has never been studied before. It includes background on Bonds and an in-depth look at the letters between Bonds and Hughes, a correspondence which spanned over three decades and which has never been examined in its entirety. It also includes a discussion of the available drafts of the cantata libretto and music, and a detailed analysis of the final piano-vocal autograph score. Finally, it will discuss the ways in which Bonds' and Hughes' pride in their African-American heritage influenced their art. Langston Hughes was at the center of the Harlem Renaissance in New York City in the 1920s, a movement dedicated to using the arts to build pride in African-American identity. A decade later, the composer and pianist Margaret Bonds was at the center of the Chicago Black Renaissance. Both Bonds and Hughes (...)

A Study of the Selected Masses of Twentieth-Century Black Composers: Margaret Bonds, Robert Ray, George Walker, and David Baker

by Andre Jerome Thomas

Abstract: This study exposes the reader to the works of four twentieth century Black composers. Each of the composers has written a mass composition. The composers were selected because of their diversity in composition. Two of the composers (Margaret Bonds and George Walker) have written mass compositions that reflect no real ethnic influence. The compositions by Robert Ray and David Baker represent compositions that illustrate two ethnic forms, gospel and jazz.
Each chapter of this study includes: (1) Biographical Sketch--to inform readers of these composers and their works; (2) About the Composition--a discussion of pertinent details about the composition, including facts  (...)

A Stylistic and Comparative Analysis of Selected Art Songs by Florence Price and Margaret Bonds

by Meng-Chieh (Mavis) Hsieh

Abstract: African-American composers began writing concert music in the early nineteenth century. Interestingly, a majority of the composers and performers were male. The gender stereotype was passed on from the period of enslavement, during which white slave owners would only use black male performers for entertainment. However, this situation changed when black women started receiving educations. Music became an important skill to have for young women, especially those in the middle and upper class. Florence Price (1887-1953) and Margaret Bonds (1913-1972) are two excellent examples of pioneers for African-American female composers. Price and Bonds are two of the most prominent African-American female composers of nineteenth century music. They had a close relationship as teacher and student and shared a similar background in music training (...)

The Life and Solo Vocal Works of Margaret Allison Bonds (1913-1972)

by Aletha M. Kilgore

Abstract: This treatise examines the life and solo vocal works of composer Margaret Allison Bonds (1913-1972). It includes a biographical outline of Bonds’s family background, education, and students. Her accomplishments as a concert pianist, composer, and music educator in Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles are also described. The second half offers an overview of Bonds’s solo vocal compositions. There is one chapter devoted to each of the three styles of song that she composed in her career: African-American spirituals, jazz/popular songs (...)

FP - Resources


FP - Publishers


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G. Schirmer - Wise Music

Extensive Titles for Purchase and Rental

In 2018, G. Schirmer (part of The Music Sales Group) acquired worldwide publishing rights to Florence Price's Catalogue. Everything from character pieces for piano to major symphonic works are now published. Efforts to rediscover, engrave, and publish her music are ongoing, so visitors are encouraged to check back often to see what new titles may be available.

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Various Titles 

Run by Glendower Jones, and based in Arkansas - the state of Price's birth, and the site of the major Price archive - Classical Vocal Reprints is a comprehensive source for sheet music, including rare, scholarly, and lesser-known publications. Among other selected works, Classical Vocal Reprints publishes Price's organ repertoire, and the most comprehensive Price song anthology available to date.

FP - Popular Media



"Black Scholars Confront White Supremacy in Classical Music"

Written by: Alex Ross

Published: 14 September 2020


"Lift Every Voice: Marian Anderson, Florence B. Price, and The Sound of Black Sisterhood

Written by: Alex Ross

Published: 29 January, 2018


"The Rediscovery of Florence Price: How and African-American composer's works were saved from destruction"

Written by: Alex Ross

Published: 29 January, 2018

FP - Podcasts


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WQXR Features

The Price of Admission: A Musical Biography of Florence Beatrice Price

WQXR host and former Morehouse music professor Terrance McKnight guides listeners through the music and legacy of one of America’s pioneering but nearly forgotten composers, and takes a biographical look at Price’s symphonic music, songs, and works for piano and organ. McKnight's piece is one of the earliest and most comprehensive efforts to bring Price's life and legacy to large audiences. Listener's are treated to a wealth of recording history, including an archival tape of Margaret Bonds talking about her friendship with Price, and Marian Anderson’s performances of Price’s music recorded during “The Bell Telephone Hour,” a popular musical showcase in the 1940-'60s. This award-winning, one-hour radio documentary is not to be missed.

Guests are Dr. Guthrie Ramsey and Dr. Karen Walwyn, with music by Chineke! OrchestraDr. Ollie Watts DavisDr. Casey RobardsThe Women’s Philharmonic, and Karen Walwyn.



THE CAGED BIRD Florence Price

What’sHerName women’s history podcast is hosted and produced by academic sisters Olivia Meikle and Katie Nelson. Committed to reclaiming forgotten history, What’sHerName tells the stories of fascinating women you’ve never heard of (but should have).

In an abandoned house in St. Anne, Illinois, an astonishing treasure trove of handwritten sheet music was discovered in 2009. That cache was the life’s work of composer Florence Price, the first African-American woman to have her work performed by major orchestras. But Price’s story is so much bigger – and so much wilder! – than even that headline-grabbing discovery could show.  Her astonishing contributions to classical music are finally getting the attention – and the praise – they deserve.

Guests are Dr. Guthrie Ramsey and Dr. Karen Walwyn, with music by Chineke! OrchestraDr. Ollie Watts DavisDr. Casey RobardsThe Women’s Philharmonic, and Karen Walwyn.

FP - Books


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The Heart of a Woman

The Life and Music of Florence B. Price

By Rae Linda Brown

Publisher: 2020, University of Illinois Press


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.

FP - Archival Materials


Located on the Fayetteville campus, the papers consist of correspondence of Price and of her daughter, Florence Price Robinson, diary fragments, programs, photographs and microfilm. In addition there are the research files of Mary Dengler Hudgins on Price. The papers also include musical scores. These are arranged according to keyboard, voice, string, and symphonic works. The papers were collected by Hudgins and Barbara Garvey Jackson in 1974-1975, and made available to the public at that time. In October, 1989 the Price papers were reprocessed by Norma Ortiz-Karp, and instrumental parts of the Symphony in E Minor, prepared by the North Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, were incorporated into the collection.

Select manuscripts and holographs available for in-person viewing at the Performing Arts Reading Room, located in the James Madison Memorial Building. Visitors must schedule an appointment and register for a reader card prior to arrival.

Rae Linda Brown's dissertation was the first to be written about the composer Florence Price, and her posthumous biography was another first. Brown published several editions of Price's compositions, including the Sonata in E Minor for piano, the Symphony in E Minor, and the Symphony No. 3 in C Minor. Her dedicated work to researching and publishing on Price led to wider recognition of Price's role in and contribution to American music. Brown held faculty and administrative positions at the University of California, Irvine, and at the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor). From 2004-2005 she was a Fellow of the American Council on Education and served as a member of the leadership team at Pomona College (Claremont, California). From 2008-2016, Brown served as Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education and professor of music at Loyola Marymount University (Los Angeles, California). From 2016-2017, she served as Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs at Pacific Lutheran University (Tacoma, Washington). In 2017 Brown received the inaugural Willis C. Patterson Research Award for her work in the area of African American Art Song. Brown died in 2017 from leiomyosarcoma, a rare and aggressive form of cancer. The collection consists of the papers of Rae Linda Brown from 1933-2015, including sheet music, correspondence, research files, teaching files, and audiovisual and born digital material. Much of the material relates to composer Florence Price. The collection also contains materials used for teaching courses in music, including syllabi, printed material, and audiovisual material.

FP - Journal Articles


People of color Who Write Classical Music: Recovering “Lost” Music by Black Composers as Resistance and Revolution

by John Michael Cooper

Black History Bulletin

by Samantha Ege

The Kaprilova Society Journal 

by Barbara Garvey Jackson

The Black Perspective in Music

FP - Dissertations


The Aesthetics of Florence Price: Negotiating the Dissonances of a New World Nationalism

by Samantha Ege

Abstract: As an African-American woman, Florence Price (1887–1953) embodied the antithesis of Eurocentric American creative thought in the first half of the twentieth century. As a practitioner who synthesized black musical idioms and classical conventions in pursuit of a distinctly American school of music, her compositional voice clashed against an aesthetic that rendered whiteness and maleness as the absolute signifiers of citizenship and, therefore, a national school. Price had little choice but to negotiate the dissonances of race and gender and, as a result, these negotiations are inherent in her compositional outlook and performance contexts. “The Aesthetics of Florence Price: Negotiating the Dissonances of a New World Nationalism” presents a historical narrative that foregrounds the junctions at which Price’s artistic, intellectual, and cultural callings converged. Focusing on the formative years and key works that led to Price’s national recognition as a composer, I largely engage her life and musical activity after her 1927 arrival in Chicago. Through the lens of a pianist, I present an analysis and interpretation that theorizes Price’s negotiations of cultural dissonances in the score and I suggest possibilities for realization in performance. This culminates in a study that examines the path to Price’s resolution of Old and New World ideals amid African retentions in her aesthetic.

The poet and her songs: analyzing the art songs of Florence B. Price

by Marquese Carter

Dr. Carter’s research on the art songs of Florence Price has been featured in numerous forums including the Society for American Music conference and the New York Times. Archival research for their dissertation The Poet and Her Songs: Analyzing the Art Songs of Florence B. Price was generously funded by the American Musicological Society Thomas Hampson Fund grant for song research. Frequently sought after as an authority on decolonizing frameworks for the academy, Carter has appeared in workshops and panel discussions ranging from the University of Michigan’s African American Music Symposium, to the University of Utah’s two-day summit on music and social justice. Carter serves as president of the International Florence Price Festival, where they curated and administered the first Virtual Florence Price Festival in 2020. Dr. Carter seeks to create spaces that center black womxn in an effort to re-canonize the hidden figures of music - past and present.

Florence Price: An Analysis of Select Art Songs with Text by Female Poets

by Christine Jobson

Abstract:  Florence Beatrice Price is a pioneer amongst African American composers. She was the first black woman to have one of her compositions played by a major American orchestra, the Chicago Symphony in 1934. In spite of her major accomplishments as a composer, many of her songs remain in obscurity. This document is an analysis of twelve of her art songs, only discovered in 2009 in an abandoned home just outside of St. Anne, Illinois. A detailed analysis of each piece is provided including a biography of each poet, a discussion of the text, pedagogical considerations, performance practice and expression, and accompaniment. A biography of the life and contributions of Florence Price as well as a brief history of African American Art song are also included in this document.

A Stylistic and Comparative Analysis of Select Art Songs by Florence Price and Margaret Bonds

by Meng-Chieh (Mavis) Hsieh

Abstract:  African-American composers began writing concert music in the early nineteenth century. Interestingly, a majority of the composers and performers were male. The gender stereotype was passed on from the period of enslavement, during which white slave owners would only use black male performers for entertainment. However, this situation changed when black women started receiving educations. Music became an important skill to have for young women, especially those in the middle and upper class. Florence Price (1887-1953) and Margaret Bonds (1913-1972) are two excellent examples of pioneers for African-American female composers. Price and Bonds are two of the most prominent African-American female composers of nineteenth century music. They had a close relationship as teacher and student and shared a similar background in music training, yet their music is quite different. In recent years, more scholars have devoted their research to rediscovering Price’s and Bonds’ music. Various studies and publications focus on their lives and works individually, but none compare the two composers. In these studies, many scholars agree with Aldrich Adkins’s theory of three distinct periods of African-American art songs; however, my analysis shows that the music of Margaret Bonds goes against the criteria he laid out for the third period. In my thesis, I compare these two composers’ styles and compositional methods in order to show that while Florence Price fits neatly into his second period, Margaret Bonds’s use of black idioms in her compositions puts her in a separate category.

"Song to the Dark Virgin": Race and Gender in Five Art Songs of Florence B. Price

by Bethany Jo Smith

Abstract:  The art songs of Florence B. Price (1888–1953) reveal a tumultuous history of the threat of being black and a woman during the Negro Renaissance in Chicago. Price was one of the first black women to be recognized as a composer; however, many of her art songs remain unpublished. This thesis expands the existing scholarship on Price and her vocal repertoire, situating her works firmly within the context of the Negro Renaissance. I analyze five of her songs, “Fantasy in Purple,” “Forever,” “Night,” “The Heart of a Woman,” and “Song to the Dark Virgin,” through an aesthetic lens of race and gender studies. My interdisciplinary analysis draws upon African American aesthetics, critical studies of Negro Renaissance poetry, feminist theory, race theory, and musical analysis. Exploring these topics within Price’s art songs provides an explicit picture of her culture and the issues she faced as a black American woman during the Negro Renaissance.

by Rae Linda Brown

Abstract:  Rae Linda Brown, author of the first Florence Price biography in print, wrote the first dissertation on Price in 1987. Her abstract states the following: This dissertation examines the orchestral works of one of the first black Americans to contribute to the development of a distinctive American voice in music, Florence B. Price (1888-1953). The study has two specific purposes. First, it is intended to fill the lacunae of biographical monographs of those pioneering Afro-American composers who have contributed significantly to the rich and diversified musical heritage of black Americans, using archival sources, oral histories, and private collections of manuscripts and memorabilia. In order to place the music of Florence Price in the proper musical and historical perspective, in chapters one through three I have given careful consideration to the social, economic, and political forces which shaped American history and had an impact on the creative endeavors of the black American. Second, this study is also intended to introduce the reader to Price's symphonic music, her most significant compositions. Chapter four treats Price's first major orchestral work, Symphony in E Minor, premiered by the Chicago Symphony in 1933. Chapter five is devoted to the Piano Concerto in One Movement, which was featured in concerts by the Chicago Women's Symphony in the 1930's. The closing chapter includes a discussion of Price's Symphony No. 3 in C minor and its first performance with the Michigan W.P.A Symphony. An investigation of orchestration, harmony, structure, rhythmic, and melodic style reveals that Price's music reflects the romantic nationalist style of the period but also the influence of her cultural heritage - that is, those elements which transcend European influence and which can be isolated as constituents of the Afro-American tradition in American culture. Her particular style demonstrates that an AfroAmerican composer could transform received musical forms, yet articulate a unique American artistic and cultural self.

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