Florence Beatrice Price took her first piano lessons at age 4 and, within a decade, had written her first composition at age 11.
Her first symphony was written at age 48 and gained global attention when she performed it with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the 1932 World’s Fair. She became the first African American woman to have her symphony performed by a national symphony orchestra.
Price, born in 1887 in Little Rock, Ark., was proud of her work and wanted to share it with the world.
“She was constantly writing letters to get her works performed,” said Karen Walwyn, area coordinator of keyboard studies at Howard University.
Walwyn, a pianist and composer, will perform Price’s soulful piano concerto with the San Bernardino Symphony, at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 11, at the California Theatre in San Bernardino.
The symphony also will perform Richard Strauss’ dramatic tone poem with conductor Anthony Parnther, and former “American Idol’’ runner-up David Archuleta will perform holiday tunes.
Walwyn said this is the first time she has performed with the San Bernardino Symphony and brought Price’s work to San Bernardino.
Price was the daughter of Dr. James. H. Smith, a dentist and activist, and Florence Irene Smith. She had a brother who chose not to live with his Black family and moved away.
Walwyn said that Price’s father and mother both taught her piano. She graduated from high school at 14, but was too young to attend college. She started college when she was 16 at New England Conservatory.
Her mother, Florence Irene, left her daughter after her divorce from Smith, who died penniless. Florence Irene moved to Chicago to try to slip into white society, Walwyn said.
“Her mother was trying to protect her when she was away at New England Conservatory,” Walwyn said.
Price earned two degrees with a double major in piano and organ. She taught at Clark University in Atlanta and at Shorter College in Little Rock. She never had any more contact with her mother.
Florence Beatrice met her husband Thomas Jewell Price, a lawyer, and they married in 1912. They had two daughters.
Florence decided to leave her teaching positions to stay at home with their daughters. She began writing music so she could remain home and teach private lessons.
Thomas Price lost his law practice after the lynching of John Carter in 1926 right near their house, and the couple moved to Chicago.
She noticed a change in their marriage after her husband lost his job and he became abusive toward her. She took their daughters and left him, choosing to live with several of her students.
One student, Margaret Bonds, would play Florence’s concerto at concerts in Chicago.
Price focused on writing music and was proud of her African American heritage. She wrote about it in works such as “At the Cotton Gin.”
Price wrote her first symphony, which won first place at the Wanamaker Competition, and a Sonata in E-minor.
Both would win cash prizes totaling $750.
It was her symphony that gained the attention of the Chicago Symphony and earn her global attention.
Price would write approximately six letters to the Boston Symphony, which never performed her work, said Walwyn.
Price was active in womens’ music organizations and the National Association of Negro Musicians in Chicago.
She died in 1953 at the age of 66.
Walwyn said that Price’s music was rediscovered in 2008 when a couple bought her home in Kankakee, Ill. The home was dilapidated, but they discovered some of her music in all of the rubble.
“When she died, it was unclear if anyone took care of her music,” Walwyn said.
It is now housed in a collection at the University of Arkansas.
Walwyn is excited to perform Price’s concerto in one movement next month.
Walwyn was 3 when she started learning the piano from her father Claude Walwyn. She took her first outside piano lessons at age 6.
Walwyn said her parents, Dorothy and Claude, both loved music and dancing. They divorced when Walwyn was in college.
Her teachers, Rosalie Gregory at Brown Community College, and James Robert Floyd, at the University of Miami, were instrumental in her musical career.
Walwyn also studied at Southern Missouri State University.
She started writing compositions, including “Reflections on 9-11.’’ Walwyn said it is a 57-minute work, with seven movements.
She is proud that her work is being performed by others in London and in Iowa.
Walwyn is also traveling to do concerts such as the one in San Bernardino. She recently performed at Florida National University.
She also has been commissioned to write an overture for early next year.
Walwyn said discovering Price’s work and being able to share it with others is inspirational for her.
“It shows the character and the strength of this woman,” Walwyn said. “Nothing stopped her. What a blessing it is to play her music today after it was lost for decades.”
Tickets are $30 to $100; students and military with ID are $15.
Contact the symphony office at (909) 381-5388 or at sanbernardinosymphony.org.