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“The Caged Bird: The Life and Music of Florence B. Price”

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Recognized as one of the most prominent African American composers of the 20th century alongside William Grant Still, Florence B. Price lived an extraordinary life, triumphing over prejudice and preconceptions to become the first African American woman to have a composition presented by a major symphony.

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“The Caged Bird: The Life and Music of Florence B. Price” traces the eponymous Arkansas native’s life and the culture in which she lived, beginning with her birth in Little Rock in 1887. Welcomed into an extraordinarily gifted family, which moved in the circles of the social set historian Willard Gatewood reefrred to as “Aristocrats of Color,” Florence grew up in what was, for a time, a congenial environment. 

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Unfortunately, however, Jim Crow laws eventually took hold of Little Rock and much of the South, creating a sort of an American apartheid system that eventually drove Florence Price and many talented people of color to leave it. Florence later settled north, in Chicago during the 1920s. Already well acquainted with many influential individuals, Florence’s circles were greatly expanded, and she came into contact with some of the most prominent African Americans in U.S. history — including abolitionist Frederick Douglass, writer and founder of the NAACP W.E.B. DuBois, author Langston Hughes and dancer Katherine Dunham. 

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During this period, Florence also became a favorite composer of the great soprano Marian Anderson, whose Easter Sunday concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1939 marked a seminal moment in civil rights history. Anderson concluded the legendary concert with a song Florence wrote and composed.

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The pinnacle of Florence’s work, however, had been reached just a few short years prior, in 1933. At the Chicago World’s Fair, the world famous Chicago Symphony — composed entirely of white men — premiered Price’s “Symphony in E Minor.” Though even today this would mark a huge achievement for any composer, at the time it was entirely without precedent. Florence’s composition was the first music written by an African American woman ever presented by a major orchestra.

Explore more of Florence Price’s fascinating life with leading historians and musicologists in a story woven throughout with leading classical musicians’ performances of newly discovered compositions by Florence Price Monday, Nov. 16, at 9 p.m.

The documentary was supported in part by grants from the Arkansas Humanities Council, the Department of Arkansas Heritage, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the University of Arkansas.

Filmmaker James Greeson is a professor of music at the University of Arkansas and composer of more than 15 documentary film scores, including the regional Emmy award-winning score for the film “The Buffalo Flows.” Greeson also wrote and produced “Conlon Nancarrow: Virtuoso of the Player Piano,” his first documentary film, which was also broadcast on AETN, in 2011 as a centennial tribute to the Arkansas native. 


TUNE IN:

Monday, Nov. 16, 2015

“The Caged Bird: The Life and Music of Florence B. Price,” 9 p.m.