Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA)
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Florence B. Price (1887-1953) was an African-American composer from Little Rock, Arkansas. Ms. Price, who was a mixed-race female, was able to achieve unprecedented success during her lifetime. Price, a composer of instrumental, orchestral, and vocal music,
acknowledged the challenges of being a woman of color, trying to break into a world dominated by white men. Through her perseverance, she found success in 1933 when the Chicago Symphony Orchestra performed her Symphony in E Minor, making her the first African-American woman to have a work performed by a major orchestra in the United States. Marian Anderson, William Grant Still and other influential musical icons of the era championed her vocal music, yet until recently, scholars knew very little about her life and oeuvre.
One of the most impactful writers after Fredrick Douglass, and before the influential Harlem Renaissance, was Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906). Dunbar wrote poetry, short stories and novels, and wrote for African-American Broadway shows. Through his work, Dunbar used his pen to express the trials and tribulations of African-Americans. His love for stories told by his mother helped to foster a unique skill in writing what is now recognized as African-American Vernacular English. Dunbar was able to meld these stories with classical styles of poetic writing. His literary style would inspire such writers as Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Zora Neal Hurston and others during the Harlem Renaissance.
This project will explore Florence B. Price’s song settings of dialect poems written by
Paul Laurence Dunbar. Through the use of published articles, letters, and previous research, this document will address Price’s compositional style as well as her interpretation of Dunbar’s poetry.
To understand how Florence Price set Dunbar’s poetry, a comparison of the original poetry to the musical score is required. This comparison will show to what extent—if at all—Price adjusted the poetry to better fit her musical interpretation. The Dunbar poetry addressed in this document is written in a language similar to the recently freed slaves, post-Civil War, known as African-American Vernacular English. A brief examination of the history and origins of African-American Vernacular English, its connection to West African tribal languages and how this language, mixed with English, created an entirely new dialect that has relevance and
signifance to this period of time.
Lastly, through this examination, the original Dunbar poetry with a Standard English transcription as well as poetic adjustments made by Price will be displayed. This document will conclude with a brief glossary of terms found in the poetry as well as the unpublished musical scores of Florence Price’s song settings of Paul Laurence Dunbar dialect poetry.
African-American history; African-American vernacular English; Art songs; Dialect; Dunbar poetry; Performance practice
Music | Theatre and Performance Studies
University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Hunter Jr, Daniel Joseph, "Florence B. Price's Compositional Style to Song Settings of Paul Laurence Dunbar's Dialect Poetry: A Performance Guide" (2019). UNLV Theses, Dissertations, Professional Papers, and Capstones. 3618.
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