THE FIRST LIVE RECORDING OF AN AFRO-MODERNIST “COTTON DANCE” (ca. 1940) BY FLORENCE B. PRICE
performed by Michael Lu
On New Year’s Eve of the rough-and-tumble year 2021 I got a fabulous musical surprise — 365 days late.
The surprise was the first live performance of Florence Price’s recently unearthed and published Cotton Dance (not to be confused with the long-familiar “Dance of the Cotton Blossoms” beautifully recorded by Althea Waites in 1993, which is also sometimes titled “Cotton Dance”), given by pianist Michael Lu and in 2020 and posted to YouTube on 31 December of that year. Mr. Lu, a graduate student at the Cleveland institute of Music, is Founder, President, and Artistic Director at Classical Music for a Better World, which has one mission: “to inspire every single human being on this planet to make the world a better place for all, through communicating the human spirit in the form of classical music.” His website also attests to his antiracist stance — and to his talent, including his talent in giving live voice to Florence Price’s individual brand of Afro-modernism.
(Afro-modernism is a broad cultural movement, born in Harlem in the 1920s, that negotiates a new artistic relationship between what literary theorist Houston A. Baker, jr., terms “spirit work” that subjects traditional Black cultural concepts and techniques to a modernist aesthetic stance in the interest of facilitating an economically stable and educated Black middle class — a modernist application of the “New Negro movement’s” overall agenda of “uplift.” In music it’s most often associated with the work of Prof. Guthrie P. Ramsey, jr., and with the radical experimentalism of jazz, especially bebop, but it’s also material to Black classical music of the mid-twentieth century. It’s the central theme of Cand. phil. A. Kori Hill’s eagerly anticipated Ph.D. dissertation, and an important theme in the dissertation of Dr. Samantha Ege. And it veritably suffuses the Cotton Dance.)