Holzer to Discuss Arkansas Roots of Famous Composer Florence Price

Dr. Linda Holzer, middle, is joined by Sandra McDonald, Leanne Day-Simpson, Rafael León, and Katherine Reynolds.

Linda Holzer, a professor of music at UA Little Rock, will be featured in a panel at an upcoming conference celebrating the life of famed pioneering Arkansas composer Florence Price.

The International Florence Price Festival, also known as PriceFest, is a festival of music dedicated to Price’s legacy. The University of Maryland at College Park is hosting the virtual conference Aug. 20-23.

Price is a Little Rock native who became the first African-American woman composer to have a symphonic composition performed by a major American orchestra, and was one of the first African-American classical composers to gain international attention. After her first symphony received its world premiere by the Chicago Symphony, she was commissioned by Britain’s famed Sir John Barbirolli for an orchestral work. 

Holzer will serve as moderator for the Aug. 22 panel discussion, “Roots and Wings: The Role of Florence Price’s Arkansas Heritage.” The panelists will discuss the nurturing inspirational forces in Little Rock that shaped Florence Price’s childhood education, and laid the groundwork for her successes in Boston and Chicago, becoming the foundation for her professional career.

“It’s exciting to have the opportunity to tell the story of how the culture, values, and vision of the African American community in Little Rock were a grand force that propelled its children forward, and equipped Florence Price for later successes,” Holzer explained. “The dynamic environment, at the turn of the 20th century this city was known as the ‘Negro Paradise,’ offering experiences during her childhood that developed her confidence and shined a light on possibilities for her future. I’m honored to be joined by insightful colleagues for the panel discussion.”

The panelists include Dr. Sybil Hampton, retired president of Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, Dr. Stephen Hayes of Philander Smith College, Dr. Earnest Lamb of Minnesota State University at Moorhead, and Benji de la Piedra, director of the Herbert Denton Community History Project for the Central Arkansas Library System. 

A child prodigy in piano, Price later attended the prestigious New England Conservatory in Boston. Following graduation, she worked as a music teacher in Arkansas for four years and then worked as the chair of the music department at Atlanta’s Clark University, a historically black university. After returning to Little Rock in 1912, Price was active as a teacher, organist, composer, and founder of the Little Rock Club of Musicians.

“At the time of her death in 1953, she had composed more than 300 works,” Holzer said. “Her art songs were performed by Marian Anderson, Leontyne Price, and others, and eventually Price was commissioned by the British conductor Sir John Barbirolli, who premiered her Suite for Strings in Manchester, United Kingdom. A tireless achiever, Price composed a wealth of beautiful solo piano music, chamber music, symphonic works, and splendid art songs.”

The Arkansas Symphony Orchestra will honor Price with performances this season, beginning with the first River Rhapsodies chamber music concert on Oct. 12 at 7 p.m. at the Clinton Presidential Library. The concert will include a performance of Price’s Piano Quintet in A minor featuring Holzer, who wrote a blog post about the event. Holzer will be joined by Sandra McDonald, violin, Leanne Day-Simpson, violin, Katherine Reynolds, viola, and Rafael León, cello.  

Holzer completed her dissertation on the solo piano music of Florence Price, and in recent years that she has brought that research full circle through many talks and recitals on Price’s life, history, and music.  She published an article, “This Is What Diversity Sounds Like,” in a 2018 issue of “Clavier Companion.” 

Price applied for and was denied entry to the Arkansas State Music Teachers Association sometime between 1917 and 1927 because of her race. Holzer was instrumental in making sure Price was recognized by the Music Teachers National Association in 2018 as a Music Teachers National Association Foundation Fellow.

In the upper photo, Dr. Linda Holzer, middle, is joined by Sandra McDonald, Leanne Day-Simpson, Rafael León, and Katherine Reynolds. They will perform Price’s Piano Quintet in A minor on Oct. 12.

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