Must-Listen Radio: WQXR's Price of Admission

Offering the perfect coda to our recent posts on Florence Price and Margaret Bonds, WQXR’s just-produced radio documentary The Price of Admission devotes a full hour to the life and music of Price.

Hosted by former Morehouse professor of music Terrance McKnight, the program is chock-a-block with excerpts of Price’s symphonic compositions, as well as her songs and works for piano and organ. It also includes an archived interview with student, friend and fellow composer Margaret Bonds.

Even Amy Beach is mentioned, albeit in the not-so-flattering context of discouraging Dvorak’s and others’ suggestions that African-American music would become the basis for an “American school of composition.”  Beach countered that Americans should focus instead on the music of their Irish and Scottish ancestors.

Dvorak’s prediction would seem to have prevailed when the Chicago Symphony Orchestra debuted Price’s prize-winning Symphony in E Minor, which contained melodies and dance rhythms found in Afro-American folk music, at the 1933 World’s Fair. The Price of Admission masterfully re-creates the rising sense of anticipation leading up to the climactic sold-out performance, which was attended by the likes of George Gershwin and Adlai Stevenson, and praised by President Roosevelt.

Price became the toast of the town, a figure of national renown in both black and white cultures whose “trajectory as a composer seemed promising.” Achieving this milestone only makes more poignant a letter she would later pen to the music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1943. Having seen her publishing and performance opportunities dwindle in the intervening ten years, she wrote:

“I am a woman, and I have Negro blood in my veins. Now that you know the worst—will you be so kind as to look at a score of mine?”


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