New Children’s Book Tells the Story of Florence Price, the First Black Woman Composer to Have Her Music Performed by a Major American Orchestra
Written and illustrated by Middle School students at Kaufman Music Center's Special Music School, a K-12 NYC public school that teaches music as a core subject.
Published by Schirmer Books, part of Wise Music Group, November 18, 2021
The new children’s book Who Is Florence Price? tells the story of a brilliant musician who prevailed against race and gender prejudices to become the first Black woman to be recognized as a symphonic composer and performed by a major American orchestra in 1933. The book was written and illustrated by 45 middle school students at Kaufman Music Center’s Special Music School, NYC's only K-12 public school that teaches music as a core subject. The project began when English teacher Shannon Potts realized that there were no materials about Price’s life at the lower school reading level. The students studied Price’s biography and mapped out her life story on a wall, discussing which elements were most important to the narrative for their intended audience at the approximately third grade level. After collaboratively writing and revising the text, the students created the illustrations, beginning with backgrounds of cut paper. The book was originally self-published as a classroom project shortly before the pandemic shut down NYC in the spring of 2020 and has been revised for the 2021 release.
Royalties from all sales of Who Is Florence Price? go to Kaufman Music Center in support of Special Music School, which makes all the benefits of a top-notch music education accessible to NYC public school students of all backgrounds without any financial barriers.
About Special Music School
Founded in 1996, Special Music School is a unique public/private partnership between Kaufman Music Center, which is responsible for the music program and provides each student with a unique and robust music program, and the New York City Department of Education, which provides the academic program. The music program is fully funded by Kaufman Music Center through private contributions.
Kaufman Music Center’s Executive Director Kate Sheeran says, “We’re so proud of our Special Music School students for taking the initiative to create this book, which is a beautiful example of what can happen when we remove barriers to music education. A comprehensive music education from the earliest grades opens doors and helps children make connections between disciplines.”
“Who is Florence Price? is a very special project for Wise Music Group,” says Robert Thompson, President of their Schirmer Books division. “It celebrates the power of storytelling and the benefits of early music education, while championing the life of a pioneering composer. We are especially proud of this release, since all book proceeds will go right back to Special Music School, to support its important music program.”
Who Is Florence Price? includes a foreword by the acclaimed composer, violinist and educator Jessie Montgomery, recipient of the Leonard Bernstein Award from the ASCAP Foundation and the Sphinx Medal of Excellence, and Mead Composer-in-Residence of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, a three-year appointment that concludes at the close of the 2023-2024 season.
Jessie Montgomery says, “This book represents a snapshot into the beautiful minds of children when they are given a chance to fully investigate their history and interests. Perhaps the most inspiring aspect is how the writers were able to recognize the complex social context of Price’s life, diving into the core issues of racial and gender discrimination she faced while pursuing her passion for music.”
14-year-old Caden Castro-Kudler, a percussionist and co-author of Who Is Florence Price?, says, “The book definitely shows our passion for music and our passion for academics, and amalgamates all those things into this beautiful finished product. It’s an unbelievable feeling to see all the work we put into this as a final product that is tangible and that we’re all really proud of and love.”
“In classical music there isn’t a lot of diversity, and being a woman of color myself, it’s inspiring to see somebody who’s made it out there,” says 14-year-old violinist and co-author Rebecca Beato. “I think it’s important to learn about Florence Price’s music and share it with the world. And it’s especially important to share the message with younger generations.”